Belfast Telegraph

Leinster set for dawn of a bright new era

By David Kelly

LEINSTER must show a capacity to deal with monumental changes in personnel both on and off the pitch when they take on Scarlets in their opening encounter of the Pro12 campaign in Wales tonight (7.05pm).

They have undergone the most dramatic of upheavals since winning the league final against Ulster at the RDS last May.

Joe Schmidt has moved to head office in Lansdowne Road, Jonathan Sexton is experiencing life in Paris and Isa Nacewa has returned to the southern side of the equator to enjoy retirement.

And the changes don't end there. Eoin O'Malley has had a promising career cut short because of injury and Andrew Conway has opted to see if Munster's red jersey fits him any better than Leinster's navy.

Given Leinster's outstanding successes in recent seasons it is astonishing they have only ever won their opening round game once since the tournament was first played on a home and away basis in 2003/04 – in 2007 when they beat Edinburgh at the RDS.

It is something Eoin Reddan spoke about passionately when he emphasised the need to show more urgency in the early rounds of the season.

"We need to have our skill levels and performance level high right from the start," he urged.

The players will want to afford Matt O'Connor a winning start. The Australian was recruited from Leicester to replace a coach who helped transform Leinster and who has now been charged with leading the national team. They are big shoes to fill.

Leinster are fortunate that they can call on some steady hands to steer the ship tonight even without the likes of Brian O'Driscoll and Jamie Heaslip.

Shane Jennings captains the side, while Fergus McFadden partners Gordon D'Arcy in the centre, with Luke Fitzgerald starting on the left wing.

It is a strong Leinster team for O'Connor's first competitive outing and should be good enough to win.

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