herald

Thursday 24 January 2019

Blues to see off minnows

Little chance of a shock at RDS

Leinster v Aironi, The RDS, TOMORROW 6.0

Coach Joe Schmidt will not consider the prospect of defeat to Italian minnows Aironi in what should be the first step on the road to recreating a 'Fortress RDS' mentality.

The stunning defeat to Glasgow was the foundation for Leinster's backlash at the Scarlets, where the younger players, especially 20-year-old Jordi Murphy, applied themselves manfully to the task.

It may not have been pretty -- Isa Nacewa kicked all the points -- but it was effective in the wet conditions as Leinster put style to one side in the pursuit of points.

There is also a lot to like about the natural footballing skills of New Zealand number eight Leo Auva'a. He has the size, power, pace, footwork and soft hands to become a Leinster regular.

There is a doubt over his concentration, especially in defence without the ball and his work rate for what is popularly called the 'dirty work'. He has all the physical tools. It is up to him and how much he wants it.

Schmidt will place a heavy emphasis on the importance of securing the four points before his players can turn to thoughts of their first bonus-point win of the season.

Nacewa is really embracing the leadership aspect of the game. He is playing and kicking superbly and has been put at the front to face the media in a way he wasn't last term.

Leinster have been forewarned by Aironi's excellent performance in Dublin last season when they took away a losing bonus-point (21-16) and by their first win of the season at home to Edinburgh (25-19) last Saturday.

This has triggered Italian international prop Fabio Staibano to play the confrontational mind games adopted by his World Cup brethren.

"If we believe in ourselves, we can have a really good game," he said. "And win, why not? For Saturday, I'm confident."

The problem for Aironi is that they have yet to win on the road in this league. There are far easier places to achieve that goal than at the home of the European champions.

Verdict: Leinster

Edinburgh v Munster, Murrayfield,

TONIGHT 7.30.

Munster coach Tony McGahan was relieved to see number eight James Coughlan suffer nothing more serious than a neck strain when he was taken off against Cardiff in the last round.

The leaders are flying high. Former Ireland U20 number eight Paddy Butler will make his first start of the season for the injured Coughlan as one of a remarkable 10 changes.

A round dozen of the starting XV are 24 years of age or under in what is a real show of strength in depth. Stalwart Mick O'Driscoll will win his 192nd cap for his province against former Munster great Michael Bradley's men.

Verdict: Munster

Edinburgh: T Brown; L Jones, J Thompson, J King, T Visser; G Laidlaw (capt), C Leck; K Traynor S Lawrie, J Gilding, G Gilchrist, S Turnbull, S Cox, R Grant, D Denton.

Munster: S Deasy; J Murphy, T Gleeson, L Mafi, D Hurley; I Keatley, P Stringer; W du Preez, D Fogarty, J Hayes, D Foley, M O'Driscoll, T O'Donnell, N Ronan, P Butler.

The Ospreys v Connacht,

The Liberty Stadium, TONIGHT 7.30 (s4c)

This is a case of second at home to third in the PRO12 League as the Ospreys look for a fifth consecutive win in the competition against the durable Irish province.

Connacht coach Eric Elwood has chosen Dylan Rogers at tighthead, with former Leinster Academy cornerstone Stewart Maguire as bench back-up, while Michael Swift returns from illness to the second row. Thomas Anderson will make his first start following his positive influence as an impact replacement against the Dragons last week.

Verdict: Ospreys

Ospreys: B Davies; R Fussell, T Isaacs, A Bishop, H Dirksen; D Biggar, R Webb; D Jones, R Hibbard, A Jarvis, I Gough, I Evans, T Smith, J Tipuric (capt), J Thomas.

Connacht: G Duffy (capt); B Tuohy, E Griffin, H Fa'afili, T O'Halloran; N O'Connor, F Murphy; B Wilkinson, E Reynecke, D Rogers, M Swift, M McCarthy, TJ Anderson, J O'Connor, J Muldoon.

The Dragons v Ulster

Rodney Parade, TONIGHT 7.05 (RTE2/BBc2)

Brian McLaughlin's Ulster really have to make this first section of the season count before other clubs bring back their big hitters after the World Cup.

They have made a reasonable start, winning three out of four, to reach fourth with a young backline that is full of potential and learning game-by-game. The men of Gwent will bring their usual ferocity and an ace in the backs in South African international speedster Tonderai Chavhanga.

Verdict: Ulster

The Dragons: M Thomas, T Chavhanga, T Riley, A Smith, M Poole; J Tovey, W Evans; N Williams, T Willis (capt), N Buck, A Jones, R Sidoli, L Evans, G Thomas, A Coombs.

Ulster: A D'Arcy; C Gilroy, D Cave, N Spence, I Whitten; P Jackson, P Marshall; D Fitzpatrick, N Brady, J Cronin, L Stevenson, D Tuohy, P Wannenburg, W Faloon, C Henry (capt).

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