Friday 19 January 2018

Bent black inclusion and white

Leinster v Zebre, The RDS, Today (KO 6.0) Live RTé 2

Michael Bent followed in the illustrious footsteps of Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll by playing for his country before he played for his club.

At last, the time is here for Leinster supporters to get to sample what exactly Bent has to offer against a Zebre front row that includes former Munster tight-head Dave Ryan.

Ireland forwards coach Anthony Foley has talked about how the management was filled with confidence from what they saw in live scrum sessions before Bent made his Ireland debut fresh off a plane against South Africa three weeks ago.

Leinster skills and kicking coach Richie Murphy was keen to add his support: "Benty has obviously just arrived into us this week.

"The big thing you notice straight away is that he has fitted into the squad really well. He knows the internationals and they brought him back in," he said.

"He's learning fast. He appears to be quite a good athlete and is able to get around the park well. His scrummaging is particularly good. So far, we are very happy that we've got him."

Leinster have put in place the front-row depth that should allow them to compete on equal terms with Clermont Auvergne on Sunday week.

Schmidt has gone for their second choice front three with Bent, Sean Cronin and Springbok Heinke van der Merwe bringing real quality in the most attritional area of the game.

The coach should be able to get away with engaging in a degree of experimentation against Zebre without it costing points.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Schmidt's selection for this evening is the shift of Gordon D'Arcy to outside centre, New Zealander Andrew Goodman slotting in at 12.

This means a return for D'Arcy to the position in which he set the 2004 Six Nations on fire to earn the plaudit of player of the tournament.

D'Arcy does not retain the speed he once had to offer and is seen more as a facilitator for others at this stage of his career. This was present in his exquisite contribution to Jonathan Sexton's first try for Ireland against Argentina last Saturday.

It also opens the way for Goodman to make his play for inclusion against Clermont Auvergne as an experienced campaigner with a brute force attitude to the gain line.

This is bad news for outside centre pretender Brendan Macken, once seen as the next bright young thing. The former Blackrock College man, still 21, has not yet made the progress in defence that he has in attack.

Andrew Conway has beaten off competition from Fionn Carr and Dave Kearney for the right-wing berth. It could be a pointer to the Heineken Cup, with Isa Nacewa peeling around to full-back.

Rhys Ruddock wins game time at openside in an effort to work match sharpness into him. He is an option for the bench in Clermont.

To cover all possibilities, Ireland front rowers Cian Healy and Mike Ross and half-backs Isaac Boss and Ian Madigan have been listed in reserve.

Leinster: I Nacewa; A Conway, G D'Arcy, A Goodman, F McFadden; J Sexton, E Reddan; H Van der Merwe, S Cronin, M Bent, L Cullen (capt), D Browne, K McLaughlin, R Ruddock, S O'Brien.

Zebre: R Trevisan; L Sarto, G Garcia (capt), M Pratichetti, S Sinoti; D Halangahu, T Tebaldi; M Aguero, C Festuccia, D Ryan, Q Geldenhuys, J Sole, N Cattina, M Bergamasco, F Cristiano.

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