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RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Aironi Rugby v Leinster

RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Aironi Rugby v Leinster

Leinster are on their travels again this weekend, flying south to Italy for only their second ever visit to the Stadio Zaffanella where an Aironi side beefed up by some returning Italy internationals lie in wait.

RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, March 2

AIRONI RUGBY (12th) v LEINSTER (1st), Stadio Zaffanella, 7pm local time/6pm Irish time (live RAI Sport 2)

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Team News: The Leinster team to face Aironi in Friday night’s RaboDirect PRO12 match at the Stadio Zaffanella has been named.

Luke Fitzgerald has recovered from a neck injury and will make his first appearance for the province in a little over two months.

The Ireland international starts at full-back in a back-three combination which also includes Fionn Carr and Andrew Conway, with the latter set for his fifth appearance of the season.

Eoin O’Malley and Brendan Macken form the centre partnership after finishing the 10-10 draw in Glasgow last weekend, with Ireland scrum half Isaac Boss again pairing up with Ian Madigan at half-back.

Heinke van der Merwe, who scored his second try in Leinster colours on his 51st appearance at Firhill Stadium, continues in the front row alongside Richardt Strauss and Nathan White.

Shane Jennings, meanwhile, leads the team and is named in an all-Ireland international back row alongside Kevin McLaughlin and Rhys Ruddock.

Damian Browne partners Devin Toner at second row, with the towering Meath man, an influential replacement against Glasgow, set to make his 89th provincial appearance.

* The game will be televised live on RAI Sport 2 and there will be live updates via the Leinster Twitter account.

Meanwhile, hosts Aironi are hoping to bounce back from the last-minute loss they suffered last Sunday to the Newport Gwent Dragons who denied the Italians their third successive home win in the league.

For the visit of Leinster, Aironi have made five changes in personnel – two in the backs, one in the second row and two in the back row.

In the back-line, Giulio Toniolatti will start at full-back in place of Alberto Benettin, while Rugby Rovigo winger Riccardo Pavan will make his third start of the season for for Rowland Phillips’ men.

The back-three is completed by Samoan wing Sinoti Sinoti. There are no changes in the centre with Roberto Quartaroli playing alongside Gabriel Pizarro, who will be winning his 40th cap for Aironi.

Tito Tebaldi, who reached the same mark a week ago, gets the nod at scrum half with Naas Olivier wearing the number 10 jersey.

With Nick Williams out due to a muscular injury, Phillips has been forced to make two changes in the back row. Josh Sole returns at number 8, with Simone Favaro, who is back from international duty, and Nicola Cattina lining out as the flankers.

The man-of-the-match against the Dragons, Joshua Furno, has been ruled out. George Biagi will take his place in the second row aklongside Carlo del Fava, who will resume training with Italy’s Six Nations squad next week.

Another Italian international, Luciano Orquera, is back after an injury and will start from the bench. The out-half could be an important option among the replacements for Aironi.

AIRONI RUGBY: Giulio Toniolatti; Riccardo Pavan, Roberto Quartaroli, Gabriel Pizarro, Sinoti Sinoti; Naas Olivier, Tito Tebaldi; Matias Aguero, Roberto Santamaria (capt), Lorenzo Romano, George Biagi, Carlo del Fava, Nicola Cattina, Simone Favaro, Josh Sole.

Replacements: Fabio Ongaro, Alberto de Marchi, Salvatore Perugini, Luca Redolfini, Filippo Ferrarini, Tyson Keats, Luciano Orquera, Gilberto Pavan.

LEINSTER: Luke Fitzgerald; Andrew Conway, Eoin O’Malley, Brendan Macken, Fionn Carr; Ian Madigan, Isaac Boss; Heinke van der Merwe, Richardt Strauss, Nathan White, Damian Browne, Devin Toner, Kevin McLaughlin, Shane Jennings (capt), Rhys Ruddock.

Replacements: Aaron Dundon, Jack McGrath, Jamie Hagan, Leo Auva’a, Dominic Ryan, John Cooney, Noel Reid, Isa Nacewa.

Referee: Andrew Macpherson (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Stefano Penne, Filippo Bertelli (both Italy)
Television Match Official: Alan Falzone (Italy)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Aironi Rugby to win: 4/1; Draw: 25/1; Leinster to win: 1/6

Pre-Match Quotes: Richardt Strauss (Leinster) – “Aironi’s always going to be a physical, tough, game. They’re a typical Italian side who were turned over late on by the Dragons, so obviously they’re going to be really up for it.

“Obviously being league leaders they will definitely come out for us this weekend. I think we did quite well in the end to get the draw (in Glasgow), it’s not the worst result for us.

“Obviously we were disappointed at not coming away with the win but the way we pulled it back wasn’t the worst thing in the world.

“We expected it to be a wet and muddy day and all the stuff didn’t go as planned, particularly the lineouts, which weren’t good at all. That’s one thing we’ve worked on to get right before Friday.”

Rowland Phillips (Aironi Rugby) – “In the last play of the game (against the Dragons) our discipline went. We conceded two penalties and then a yellow card arrived.

“In general play we lacked calmness when we got into the opposition’s half. We played well but we lost four out of 22 lineouts.

“Above all, at the end, we should have played tighter and looked for the penalty that would have closed the game.

“It’s still a last-second loss but I have seen good things. In Swansea (where we lost 23-7) we created a lot, and against the Dragons we did even better.”

Top Scorers – 2011/12 RaboDirect PRO12: Aironi Rugby – Points: Naas Olivier 70; Tries: Nick Williams 5; Leinster – Points: Isa Nacewa 108; Tries: Ian Madigan 6


Thursday, February 10, 2011 – Leinster 21 Aironi Rugby 16, the RDS
Saturday, April 23, 2011 – Aironi Rugby 8 Leinster 20, Stadio Zaffanella
Saturday, October 1, 2011 – Leinster 26 Aironi Rugby 7, the RDS


– Aironi came within 60 seconds of a fourth victory this season in the RaboDirect PRO12 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons last Sunday

– Aironi have now picked up league points in each of their last three home games

– Leinster staged a late comeback to preserve their unbeaten run at Firhill last Saturday. The province were 10-0 down with just over a quarter of the game left and drew 10-10

– Should the Leinstermen avoid defeat in this game they will equal Munster’s all-time league record of 14 games without defeat, which they set during 2011

– Leinster have won all three previous meetings with Aironi, and have lost just once in three previous visits to Italy in this competition