Ruddock and McFadden given chance to stake claim
AIRONI away is not the most glamorous fixture on the circuit but there will still be plenty of bite at the Stadio Zaffanella this afternoon when the Magners League minnows host the side being touted as the best in Europe.
The Italians have just one win to show for their debut league campaign, at home to Connacht, and are desperate to make a statement in front of their fans before their season fizzles out. The visitors have motored along smoothly since their defeat-ridden opening month and have worked their way into the play-off mix.
Victory is needed to keep the pressure up for a home semi-final and there are individual incentives also as the World Cup looms. On the wings, Luke Fitzgerald believes he is on the verge of the big game to restore the confidence he has lacked this year, while Fergus McFadden is pushing hard to earn a starting berth for the Heineken Cup showdown with Toulouse next weekend and keep his name in Declan Kidney's mind.
There are similar incentives in the back-row for Rhys Ruddock and Shane Jennings, while the likes of Brian O'Driscoll, Eoin Reddan, Cian Healy, Mike Ross, Nathan Hines and Sean O'Brien will be using this fixture to warm up the shoulders for the big one against Toulouse.
One of the many impressive aspects to Joe Schmidt's first season as Leinster coach has been astute team selection and this looks like another clever pick.
Aironi will be dogged, as they showed when getting a losing bonus point at the RDS in February, but are still eminently beatable and it is a good chance to give youngsters like full-back David Kearney, centre Eoin O'Malley, out-half Ian Madigan and hooker Jason Harris-Wright further meaningful experience.
With a sprinkling of streetwise heads around them it makes for a nice blend overall and if the pressure does come on from their hosts, there is a grizzled cavalry on the bench in the shape of Leo Cullen, Richardt Strauss, Isaac Boss, Jonathan Sexton and Shane Horgan.
As for Aironi, wingers Kaine Robertson and Daniel Demas have plenty about them and there is grit in the pack behind the well-known names of Fabio Ongaro, Marco Bortolami, Josh Sole and Nick Williams (depending on whether he is in the mood).
All-in-all, there is enough motivation and meaningful contest to provide Leinster with decent preparation for their Toulouse test -- and they have the bodies to get the desired result.
AIRONI -- H San Martin; K Robertson, G Pavan, G Pizarro, D Demas; J Marshall, T Tebaldi; A De Marchi, F Ongaro, F Staibano; J Furro, M Bortolami (capt); J Sole, G Krause, N Williams. Reps: L Ferraro, S Perugini, L Redolfini, Q Geldenhuys, N Caffina, P Canavosio, M Pratichetti, R Bocchino.
LEINSTER -- D Kearney; F McFadden, B O'Driscoll, E O'Malley, L Fitzgerald; I Madigan, E Reddan; C Healy, J Harris-Wright, M Ross; D Toner, N Hines; R Ruddock, S Jennings, S O'Brien. Reps: R Strauss, H van der Merwe, S Wright, L Cullen, D Ryan, I Boss, J Sexton, S Horgan
REF -- A McMenemy (Scotland)