Chastened Leinster prepare for tricky test

Only Mike McCarthy and Rhys Ruddock remain from last week’s pack for the trip to Zebre

  Richardt Strauss: returns for his first game in five months as Leinster take on Zebre. Photo: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Richardt Strauss: returns for his first game in five months as Leinster take on Zebre. Photo: Donall Farmer/Inpho

 

Leinster travel to Italy for the ultimate banana skin at their lowest ebb for some time at this juncture of the season. It’s just a week out from a return to European fare. Hence, despite languishing in seventh place and in a season when the Pro12 has never been more important, Matt O’Connor has taken this opportunity to welcome back several of their lengthy casualty list for some badly needed match practice. He also rests other key men but also risks one or two others.

In the forwards, only Mike McCarthy and Rhys Ruddock survive from last week’s defeat to Munster when the team were outmuscled up front.

Jack McGrath, Richardt Strauss and Marty Moore all return from injury, in the case of Strauss for his first game in five months since sustaining a badly torn hamstring which required surgery, while Moore is making his first start of the season. Sean Cronin is given a well-earned rest.

Zane Douglas returns in the second-row (although Devin Toner is on the bench) and with Jamie Heaslip and Domin Ryan rested, Jack Conan starts, as does the 21-year-old ex-Wesley and UCD academy player Josh van der Flier on his debut.

Seasonal opener

Isaac Boss and Ian Madigan form a new half-back pairing, with the latter afforded a frustratingly rare opportunity at outhalf as Jimmy Gopperth is spared the trip. Noel Reid returns for his first outing since departing in the first minute of the seasonal opener away to Glasgow means Gordon D’Arcy reverts to outside centre.

Zane Kirchener also makes a welcome return after three weeks out with a hamstring strain while Rob Kearney returns to captain the side after being on the bench a week ago.

This is Zebre’s third home game in a row, and in another quirk of the early fixture list, they have been familiar opposition for Irish teams this season, having met Ulster twice and Munster already. As much as their win over 14-man Ulster a fortnight ago, extending the Ospreys to a one-point win last week underlines the trickiness of Leinster’s task.

A win of any hue, without injuries, would happily do and that much should be achieved.

 

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