Leinster kids to cut loose and run free
MAGNERS LEAGUE:LEINSTER MAY have 11 players on international duty and three in sick bay (although Stan Wright’s return is imminent) but they still appear in better shape than an Aironi side seemingly incapable of winning a Magners League game despite the Italians practically begging for access to this standard of rugby.
Granted, this lot beat Biarritz in Europe a few months back but clearly they require an extended bedding-in period before they can produce two competitive outfits.
They also need to produce an Italian number 10 and stop relying on Super 15 rejects.
The Six Nations game at Twickenham on Saturday denies Aironi some fundamental contributors in locks Quintin Geldenhuys and Carlo del Fava, flanker Josh Sole, hooker Fabio Ongaro and centre Pablo Canavosio.
In contrast, Joe Schmidt has already been rewarded for the faith he showed in the fringe element of his squad in November international window so he has no problem announcing Rhys Ruddock as the youngest captain in Leinster history – he turned 20 last November – while Brendan Macken will make his senior debut at outside centre.
Macken’s promotion means he joins team-mate, Andrew Conway, from the winning Blackrock College Senior Cup team of 2009 as Schmidt pulled both men from the Ireland under-20s camp. It should be noted Macken was not actually selected for Ireland against Italy last week, as Rhys’ dad Mike Ruddock preferred Leinster sub-Academy centre Alex Kelly.
This merely emphasises Leinster’s stockpile of talent in the three-quarter line. The same can be said of the backrow where Shane Jennings is a likely replacement having been dropped by Ireland to make way for Jamie Heaslip.
Another 20-year-old, Dominic Ryan, gets to continue his hugely encouraging season at number seven, with Stephen Keogh’s frame expected to cancel out former Munster number eight Nick Williams.
“I know Nick well, we’re good friends from back home,” said Isa Nacewa of his former Auckland team-mate. “You know, he did not get much of a chance at Munster, but I think against Dragons he scored three tries off the back of the scrum, so he is really a powerhouse.
“Nick was really on top of his game when he left (New Zealand). He was on the junior All Blacks and starting for them, and things have not gone his way. A few niggily injuries have kept him out, but he’s still a top-class player and one of the strongest players you will ever play against. When he is injury-free he is one of the best number eight running players in the world.”
This presents an enticing carrot for Ryan and Ruddock – the former being particularly keen to showcase his defensive qualities. Kevin McLaughlin is another who will be loitering with intent, having been accommodated in the secondrow alongside Devin Toner, despite the availability of recent signing from Ulster Ed O’Donoghue.
Leinster will miss the experience of regulars like Shane Horgan this evening but that is offset by a genuine battle already raging to eventually succeed him on the wing. Presuming the frontrow foreigners earn their euros at set-pieces, Dave Kearney and Conway should be fed enough ball to bring this duel to a live television audience.
With that in mind, Leinster kids to cut loose and run free.
LEINSTER: I Nacewa; A Conway, B Macken, E O’Malley, D Kearney; I Madigan, P O’Donohoe; H van der Merwe, R Strauss, C Newland; K McLaughlin, D Toner; R Ruddock (Capt), D Ryan, S Keogh. Replacements: J Harris-Wright, J McGrath, S Shawe, E O’Donoghue, P Ryan/S Jennings, I Boss, I McKinley, N Morris.
AIRONI: P Buso; K Robertson, G Pizarro, H San Martin, D Demas; J Marshall, T Tebaldi; A De Marchi, R Santamaria, F Staibano; M Bortolami (Capt), J Furno; N Cattina, J Erasmus, N Williams. Replacements: L Ferraro, A De Marchi, L Redolfini, G Biagi, A Benatti, P Travagli, A Benettin, M Pratichetti.
Referee: Nigel Owens(WRU).
Verdict: Leinster to win.