Belfast Telegraph

Magners League: Leinster closing in on home semi-final tie

Aironi away is not the most glamorous of fixtures but there will still be plenty of bite at the Stadio Zaffannella today when the Magners League minnows host Leinster, the side being touted as the best in Europe.

The Italians have one win to show for their debut league campaign — at home to Connacht — and are desperate to make a statement in front of their fans before their season fizzles out.

The visitors have motored along smoothly since their defeat-ridden opening month and have worked their way into the play-off mix.

Victory is needed to keep the pressure up for a home semi-final and there are also individual incentives as the World Cup looms ever closer.

On the wings, Luke Fitzgerald believes he is on the verge of the big game to restore the confidence he has lacked this year while Fergus McFadden is pushing hard to earn a starting berth for the Heineken Cup showdown with Toulouse next weekend and keep his name in Ireland coach Declan Kidney’s mind.

There are similar incentives in the back-row for Rhys Ruddock and Shane Jennings while the likes of Brian O’Driscoll — who returns to the captaincy with Leo Cullen on the bench — Eoin Reddan, Cian Healy, Mike Ross, Nathan Hines and Sean O’Brien will be using this fixture to warm up the shoulders for the big one against Toulouse.

One of the many impressive aspects to Joe Schmidt’s first season as Leinster coach has been astute team selection and this looks like another clever pick.

Aironi will be dogged opponents, as they showed when getting a losing bonus point at the RDS in February, but are still very beatable and it is a good chance to give youngsters like full-back David Kearney, centre Eoin |O’Malley, out-half Ian Madigan and hooker Jason Harris-Wright further meaningful experience.

It all makes for an intriguing encounter.

Belfast Telegraph


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