Leinster will begin the New Year at Murrayfield, the home of Scottish rugby, and with the welcome addition of fit-again trio Rob Kearney, Brian O’Driscoll and Luke Fitzgerald to their team.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, January 4
EDINBURGH (9th) v LEINSTER (6th), Murrayfield, 7.35pm (live TG4/BBC ALBA)
Team News: The Leinster team to face Edinburgh in Friday night’s RaboDirect PRO12 match at Murrayfield has been named.
The province have been boosted by the return from injury of Ireland and Lions trio Luke Fitzgerald, Rob Kearney and Brian O’Driscoll ahead of the trip to the Scottish capital.
Kearney, who will make his 122nd appearance for the province, is named in a pacy-looking back three alongside Fitzgerald and Fionn Carr.
O’Driscoll will link up in midfield with Gordon D’Arcy. Eoin Reddan, who is set to make his 75th Leinster appearance, partners Jonathan Sexton at half-back.
Leo Cullen leads an all-Ireland qualified fifteen which includes the likes of Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip and Sean O’Brien in the pack.
Shane Jennings has recovered from illness to take his place on the replacements bench alongside fellow Ireland internationals Michael Bent and Isaac Boss.
Speaking ahead of the round 13 fixture, flanker Kevin McLaughlin said: “It’s a really exciting time of the year. With a few of the internationals returning this week it will boost competition.
“In a squad like this you’re almost always looking over your shoulder and you know that if you miss out then you could face a longer spell on the sidelines.
“The greater the competition for places, the more intense training is and the enthusiasm all of the lads bring can only be a positive and the management have shown that they’re not afraid to mix and match things and back the depth of the squad.
“Edinburgh will pose a big challenge for us this week and we went through a phase for a number of years where we couldn’t buy a win there.
“We won a high-scoring game last year and snuck a win by the skin of our teeth earlier this season, so we’re expecting them to be gunning for us. We’ll need to bring a high level of intensity and it’ll be another tight and physical battle.”
Meanwhile, this match represents the first opportunity for Edinburgh to atone for a tough end to 2012, which saw them endure four losses in all competitions, with their last home victory coming at the expense of the Ospreys at the end of November.
The one change to the Scottish club’s back-line sees Kiwi centre Ben Atiga start for the first time since injuring his knee in October. He will partner Matt Scott in midfield.
Willem Nel has recovered from the hamstring strain that ruled him out of last weekend’s derby loss to Glasgow Warriors, and is preferred to Geoff Cross at tighthead prop in an otherwise unchanged front five.
Stuart McInally returns to the fold on the blindside flank with David Denton given a start at number 8, the position in which he has earned all nine of his Scotland caps to date.
The introduction of Georgian international Dimitri Basilaia completes a physical, ball-carrying back row. This will be his second start for Edinburgh since arriving in the summer.
EDINBURGH: Greig Tonks; Dougie Fife, Matt Scott, Ben Atiga, Tim Visser; Piers Francis, Greig Laidlaw (capt); Allan Jacobsen, Andy Titterrell, Willem Nel, Grant Gilchrist, Sean Cox, Stuart McInally, Dimitri Basilaia, David Denton.
Replacements: Steven Lawrie, Robin Hislop, Geoff Cross, Perry Parker, Netani Talei, Richie Rees, James King, Sep Visser.
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Fionn Carr, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald; Jonathan Sexton, Eoin Reddan; Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Mike Ross, Leo Cullen (capt), Devin Toner, Kevin McLaughlin, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: Aaron Dundon, Heinke van der Merwe, Michael Bent, Tom Denton, Shane Jennings, Isaac Boss, Ian Madigan, Andrew Conway.
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Peter Allan, Bob Nevins (both Scotland)
Television Match Official: Jim Yuille (Scotland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Edinburgh to win: 3/1; Draw: 25/1; Leinster to win: 1/4
Pre-Match Quotes: Joe Schmidt (Leinster) – “I was pleased with the effort (against Connacht) from what was a relatively young and inexperienced group of players.
“We defended well playing into the strong breeze in the first half as Connacht put a lot of pressure on us. It was a great confidence boost to get seven points just before the interval and we put together some positive phases in the last quarter of the game to build a bit of a buffer on the scoreboard.
“Despite the cold wind, the crowd helped spur the players on as always and it was great to be back at the RDS with the really positive support we receive there.
“With other teams in the top half winning over the weekend we didn’t lose any ground at least, so we’re still just outside the play-off qualification spots.
“It means we’ve still got plenty of work to do, but at least we’re close enough to be in the scramble for the semi-finals.”
Michael Bradley (Edinburgh) – “The competitiveness of the RaboDirect PRO12 is exceptional, and there are few tougher challenges than hosting the current European champions.
“However, while we have a lot of respect of Leinster, we don’t fear them and we are fully focused on kickstarting the New Year at home after a tough December.
“We ran them close in Dublin earlier in the season and are looking forward to having another crack at them at home on Friday night.”
Top Scorers – 2012/13 RaboDirect PRO12: Edinburgh – Points: Greig Laidlaw 73; Tries: Tim Visser 11; Leinster – Points: Ian Madigan 86; Tries: Ian Madigan 4
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Sunday, May 9, 2010 – Leinster 37 Edinburgh 28, the RDS
Friday, September 24, 2010 – Edinburgh 32 Leinster 24, Murrayfield
Saturday, October 30, 2010 – Leinster 19 Edinburgh 18, the RDS
Friday, October 28, 2011 – Edinburgh 28 Leinster 36, Murrayfield
Friday, April 13, 2012 – Leinster 54 Edinburgh 13, the RDS
Saturday, September 22, 2012 – Leinster 22 Edinburgh 16, the RDS
– Edinburgh have lost their last four matches in all competitions, while their only victory in their last six matches at Murrayfield was 23-13 over the Ospreys in the RaboDirect PRO12 on November 23 last
Leinster’s three-match losing run in all tournaments ended with their 17-0 victory over Connacht at the RDS last Saturday evening
– The Leinstermen have not been defeated by a Scottish side since Glasgow Warriors beat them 23-19 at the RDS in September 2011
– Leinster have won their last four encounters with Edinburgh, and have won on three of their last four visits to Murrayfield, including the 2009 Heineken Cup final triumph over Leicester Tigers