Friday, October 31, 2014

Preview - Leinster v Edinburgh


EDINBURGH : 15 Nick McLENNAN 14 Dougie FIFE 13 Joaquin DOMINGUEZ 12 (Captain) Andries STRAUSS 11 Tim VISSER 10 Tom HEATHCOTE 9 Sam HIDALGO-CLYNE
1 Allan DELL 2 James HILTERBRAND 3 Willem NEL 4 Ben TOOLIS 5 Jack TURLEY 6 Magnus BRADBURY 7 Tomas LEONARDI 8 David DENTON
Substitutes 16 Jake KERR 17 Rory SUTHERLAND 18 John ANDRESS 19 Jamie RITCHIE 20 George TURNER 21 Sean KENNEDY 22 Greig TONKS 23 Jack CUTHBERT

At RDS Arena, 7.35pm. Live on TG4/BBC ALBA
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU, 115th competition game)
Assistant Referees: David Wilkinson, Stuart Douglas (both IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: Eugene Ryan (IRFU)
TMO: Kevin Beggs (IRFU)

October 31, 1995 wasn't just the Eve of All Hallows but it was also the eve of Leinster's first-ever Heineken Cup encounter.
  
The following day at the Stadio Comunale Giuriati we came out on top 24-21 in a match that was watched by about 5 people despite the Milan side including the great Diego Dominguez.

According the Leinster Rugby website, this match was the official beginning of the province's modern history, which in turn means that Vince Cunningham was the first in the modern era to wear the Leinster 13 jersey.

Since then only a select few have marked their very first appearance for the boys in blue wearing that key number on their backs.

Of course BOD is one, making his debut at Temple Hill in 1999.  Then there was Fergus McFadden, starting at 13 at Cardiff Arms Park in 2007 and Eoin O'Malley launched his all-too-brief senior career at outside centre for Leinster at Rodney Parade in December 2009.

I thought I might find more; Kieran Lewis and Christian Warner came to mind, but their first appearances were as sub and 12 respectively.  There very well may be more but I didn't really have the time to go checking every game!  

My point is that generally players don't start their rugby union careers at 13 - more often than not they are put on the wing to start (Darce for example)  and only move to the centre "when they're ready".

Ben Te'o not only debuts at outside centre for Leinster on this year's Eve of All Hallows, but he also does it in front of the RDS faithful.

No pressure, then!  But then again he has played in State of Origins as well as, just a few weeks ago, the NRL Grand Final so it's not like he's a stranger to the big occasion.

Still, by selecting him off the bat (Halloween reference - see what I did?) in such a key position, it is clear that Matt O'Connor has faith in him, and if his conversion from the league code pays off, it could well be the final piece that will prove those who have doubts in MOC's approach to the game (myself included) wrong.

I mean...it's not like he's going to reach BOD-like heights in rugby union, but having said that, this switch in code isn't like Michael Jordan trying his oversize hand at baseball either...and from what I have seen of his Rabbitohs appearances, Te'o can definitely make a good in this game with the right guidance.

Will anything be proven tonight?  Of course not.  The significance of this match will be more for those who like saying "I remember that Halloween night in the RDS when Te'o played his first game for Leinster", but it is a significance nonetheless.

Despite my devoting half of my preview to him (I really can harp on, can't I), Te'o isn't the only name to catch the eye in this Leinster selection.

Given the impending internationals plus the fact we're on a 5-day turnaround from the victory in Castres, there are a lot more from that match on display tonight than I thought there would be, and most eye-catching for me is that the very same back 3 of Darragh Fanning, Luke Fitzgerald and Zane Kirchner will start.

We have definitely benefited from the exclusion of Kirchner from the Springbok squad (though we can't rule out a call up due to injury), and the fact that it will be more three weeks until our next match means they can probably afford to go all out for 80 more minutes.

Elsewhere in the side there is more continuity in key positions with Gopperth at 10, Ryan at 7 and Douglas at 5 but there are also some interesting additions to the lineup.

First and foremost it's great to see Kevin McLoughlin back on the pitch and that he leads out the side shows just how valuable his return is.

Also Luke McGrath gets a start - HUZZAH!  I wonder if O'Connor's hand was "forced" by Reddan's international call up as well as Boss' brainfart before being benched last Sunday.  Still, an excellent chance for the Under 20 skipper to show what he can do at this level.

That last sentence leads me to ask - what exactly IS the level we'll see tonight?  

On one hand, Edinburgh have to fancy their chances just a bit having won at Thomond Park on opening night plus they are on a 3-match win streak against the Dragons, Bordeaux and Lyon.

On the other hand, not only do they have an injury list that has them down to a skeleton (another one! I'm on fire) squad but also their recent Pro12 travels have resulted in tonkings by both Ulster and the Ospreys.

Embra do have threats tonight, like try machine Tim Visser on the wing and David Denton in their back row, but given their need to call up part-timers I can't see them coming to Dublin to do anything but thwart us, and given the way we have struggled to put points on the board with our approach this season, you have to think they may just have some luck with it.

The bookies are putting us at around 21-point favourites. Nigel Owens is reffing which will limit the effectiveness of the visitors' shenanigans, but I still have a feeling we may fall short of that margin.  The question is - will we manage the four tries we most certainly need from this match?

Yes.  Check that, no.  Wait, hang on, what am I saying, definitely yes.  Or not.  Damn, that's a tough question!  Loads of variables.

Ok.  Glass half full time. Yes, we will get the four tries, and we'll win by around 14 points.  It won't put us back in the top four, but it would still be five crucial league points as we try to crawl our way back up the table and put the sorry September well behind us.

See you at the RDS tonight.  Here's hoping the only Halloween horror shows are off the pitch!  #COYBIB JLP
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