Young flanker Rhys Ruddock will captain a Leinster team boasting eight players aged 23 and under, as Joe Schmidt’s men return to Magners League action against Italian side Aironi.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Thursday, February 10
LEINSTER (3rd) v AIRONI RUGBY (12th), the RDS, 7.05pm (live RTE Two)
Team News: The Leinster team to face Aironi in Thursday night’s Magners League clash has a youthful look to it with eight starters aged 23 or under, including teenagers Andrew Conway and Brendan Macken.
The Six Nations provides the Leinster management with an opportunity to freshen things up for the visit of the Italians.
Ireland flanker Rhys Ruddock leads the team for the first time in a back row which includes Dominic Ryan and Stephen Keogh.
Ruddock captained the Ireland Under-20s to the Grand Slam last season and made his Ireland senior debut against Australia last summer.
The 20-year-old, who is on a Development contract with Leinster, was named in Ireland’s RBS 6 Nations squad last month.
Ian Madigan will make his 11th appearance for Leinster this season, partnering Paul O’Donohoe at half-back, with Eoin O’Malley, fresh from winning his first two caps with the O2 Ireland Wolfhounds, lining up alongside debutant Brendan Macken at centre.
The 19-year-old Macken was sprung from the bench last Friday to help the Ireland Under-20s see off Italy in their U-20 Six Nations opener.
In the selected Leinster pack, Heinke van der Merwe and Richardt Strauss have been named in the front row, with Kevin McLaughlin lining up at second row alongside fellow Ireland international Devin Toner.
A decision on the final make-up of the replacements bench will be made closer to kick-off on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the selected Aironi team shows several changes for the club’s first ever trip to Dublin to face Leinster.
With several players involved in the Italian squad for their Six Nations match against England and others returning from Italy ‘A’ duty carrying injuries, head coach Rowland Phillips is forced to opt for a completely new line-up.
At full-back, Paolo Buso, who scored a try for Italy ‘A’ against England Saxons recently, will make his first start after playing the second half against the Cardiff Blues.
For the first time in this season, Aironi can start with both Kaine Robertson and Danwel Demas adding speed on the wings. Demas is coming back from a car accident he was involved in last October.
There is also a new pairing at centre with the Argentinian-born duo of Gabriel Pizarro and Horacio San Martin combining. For San Martin, this will be the debut for Aironi.
Tito Tebaldi and James Marshall resume at half-back, and Nick Williams also returns at number 8 after missing last two matches.
Marco Bortolami will skipper the team from the second row, with youngster Joshua Furno alongside him. The front row is composed of props Fabio Staibano and Alberto De Marchi, with Roberto Santamaria hooking.
LEINSTER: Isa Nacewa; Andrew Conway, Brendan Macken, Eoin O’Malley, David Kearney; Ian Madigan, Paul O’Donohoe; Heinke van der Merwe, Richardt Strauss, Clint Newland, Kevin McLaughlin, Devin Toner, Rhys Ruddock (capt), Dominic Ryan, Stephen Keogh.
Replacements: Jason Harris-Wright, Jack McGrath, Simon Shawe, Ed O’Donoghue, Paul Ryan/Shane Jennings, Isaac Boss, Ian McKinley, Niall Morris.
AIRONI RUGBY: Paolo Buso; Kaine Robertson, Gabriel Pizarro, Horacio San Martin, Danwel Demas; James Marshall, Tito Tebaldi; Alberto de Marchi, Roberto Santamaria, Fabio Staibano, Marco Bortolami (capt), Joshua Furno, Nicola Cattina, Jaco Erasmus, Nick Williams.
Replacements: Luigi Ferraro, Andrea de Marchi, Luca Redolfini, George Biagi, Andrea Benatti, Pietro Travagli, Alberto Benettin, Matteo Pratichetti.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: David Wilkinson, Mark Hermin (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Peter Ferguson (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Leinster to win: 1/100; Draw: 55/1; Aironi Rugby to win: 14/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Stephen Keogh (Leinster) – “There’s a big transition with a lot of players missing from the internationals. It’s going to be a good test for us to see how the younger lads get on and the lads who haven’t got much game-time.
“We’re really looking forward to the game. We haven’t had much game-time together. I don’t know if Aironi have been disrupted that much with the Six Nations, but we’ve been pretty heavily affected.
“It’s a big challenge for the lads coming in to make sure we keep up the standard in the Leinster jersey.
“We looked at the games that we’ve played in the Heineken Cup, and there’s certain things we need to improve on. Things that we’ve been working hard on.
“There’s always room for improvement, just the small little things that we need to improve. Aironi are a strong team and hopefully we’ll get a good result against them.”
Top Scorers – 2010/11 Magners League: Leinster – Points: Isa Nacewa 113; Tries: Isa Nacewa, Shane Horgan 4 each; Aironi Rugby – Points: Ludovic Mercier 44; Tries: Julien Laharrague, Nick Williams, Giovanbattista Venditti, Luigi Ferraro, Gabriel Pizarro, Josh Sole, Gareth Krause 1 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
– Leinster have won their last six matches in all competitions, since their 20-13 loss to Clermont Auvergne in the Heineken Cup on December 12
– The Leinstermen’s only defeat in the Magners League since September was a 19-15 reversal at the Ospreys on November 28
– Aironi’s only victory this season came at home to Biarritz Olympique in the Heineken Cup on December 11
– Aironi are still without a point from any game played outside of Italy. This match is the first meeting between the two teams