Leinster v Zebre, RDS, 7.30pm (Not on TV)
Zebre, who have never beaten Leinster, arrive with two permit players from the Italian league Eccellenza in the side and more in hope than real expectations of winning. It has always been thus.
Leinster, with Cian Healy and Mike Ross upfront, field a strong home side full of proven ability and promise – Garry Ringrose, Josh van Der Flier James Tracy, Ross Molony.
Leinster should win and expect the less seasoned players to show their customary urgency. That may transfer to other senior players who are vying to capture Joe Schmidt's attention. Fergus McFadden, told by Schmidt that he would not be required for the first two matches in the Six Nations, is now on the bench to face France.
With Devin Toner and Mike McCarthy in the Ireland secondrow, Molony gets a run out with Hayden Triggs. Molony was still in national school when his opposite number and Zebre captain Marco Bortolami was doing the hand to hand in the Italian trenches.
The former Italian lock is 35 years old, Molony is 21, but with a man of the match performance against Bath earlier this year he’s not about to let the experience deficit spoil a good night in the RDS.
“Yeah, he’s obviously a great leader, the captain of Zebre and over 100 international caps,” says Molony. “Very, very reliable. They’ll be looking to take us on physically in the maul, so it’s just about us being prepared for that and getting started in the game as best as we can.
“I would have been aware of him [Bortolami] from playing for Italy so much. It’s quite exciting to be looking at him as the opposition now, as opposed to just watching him on TV.”
Like Ringrose and others, it’s more experience for players who have rightfully set their sights high and that’s how Molony see it. “I wouldn’t see it as pressure, just as an opportunity,” he says.
“It’s quite exciting when you know obviously the two lads will be away for the week. It’s then just about getting my own stuff right and giving myself the best opportunity.”
Leinser are unbeaten in their last nine league games in the RDS, going back to February last year. Zebre have never gotten closer than 17 points. That was when Leinster won 20-3 in Parma two seasons ago.
LEINSTER: Zane Kirchner; Adam Byrne, Garry Ringrose, Ben Te'o, Isa Nacewa (captain); Cathal Marsh, Isaac Boss; Cian Healy, James Tracy, Mike Ross; Ross Molony, Hayden Triggs; Dominic Ryan, Josh van der Flier, Jordi Murphy.
Replacements: Seán Cronin, Peter Dooley, Michael Bent, Tom Denton, Dan Leavy, Luke McGrath, Noel Reid, Cian Kellegher.
ZEBRE: U Beyers; D Berryman, T Boni, M Pratichetti, K Van Zyl; M Azzolini, L Burgess; B Postiglioni, O Fabiani, G Roan; G Koegelenberg, M Bortolami (capt); E Caffini, Johan Meyer, J Cook.
Replacements: E Coria, A de Marchi, P Ceccarelli, F Ruzza, F Cristiano, G Toniolatti, M Muliana, A Souare.
Referee: B Whitehouse (WRU)