Leinster are back on home soil for the final round of the RaboDirect PRO12’s regular season, with the soon-to-be-retired Brian O’Driscoll and Leo Cullen both featuring in the starting line-up against Edinburgh.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, May 10
LEINSTER (1st) v EDINBURGH (8th), the RDS, 6.30pm (live TG4)
Team News: The Leinster team to face Edinburgh in the final game of the RaboDirect PRO12 regular season at the RDS on Saturday evening has been named.
Head coach Matt O’Connor has made eight changes in total to the team that beat Ulster, but it is one change in particular in the back row that will garner most attention and will delight Leinster supporters.
Sean O’Brien is set to make his first appearance in the RaboDirect PRO12 since the December fixture against Ulster at the RDS that ultimately threatened his entire season.
Carried off that evening with a shoulder injury, it was thought that his season would be over but his recovery has gone to plan and is actually ahead of schedule – so much so that O’Connor has recalled him to the starting line-up at a most crucial point in the year.
Jordi Murphy and Jamie Heaslip complete the back row, Murphy coming in for one of last weekend’s try scorers, Shane Jennings.
The other alterations in the pack see a completely new front row as recently-crowned Leinster Rugby Players’ Player of the Year Jack McGrath lines out together with hooker Richardt Strauss and Mike Ross.
The retiring Leo Cullen captains the side from the second row, in place of Devin Toner, with Mike McCarthy beside him.
There are two changes to the backs with Rob Kearney making way for the returning Fergus McFadden who takes his place on the right wing, with Zane Kirchner taking over in the number 15 jersey.
McFadden’s return is another timely boost as there had been doubts about whether or not he could return in time for the end of season run-in, having picked up a knee injury in the away loss to Toulon.
Dave Kearney is once again selected on the left wing, with Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll continuing in the centre.
The final change is a straight swap at out-half where Jimmy Gopperth comes in for his 27th Leinster cap, with 212 points to his name this year. Ian Madigan reverts to the bench.
Leinster supporters are urged to get to the ground early with it being KIDS TAKE OVER day! There is a BBQ for all and the first 500 fans will get a free burger.
There are plenty of other activities and fun for the whole family and the province also have 15 mascots, one for each player as they enter the pitch.
Saturday evening is also being used to wish two of Leinster’s greatest ever players a fond farewell. A bumper special edition matchday programme looking back over Leo Cullen and Brian O’Driscoll’s respective careers in the blue of Leinster will be sold at the RDS.
In addition, after the game, there will be an on-pitch presentation to Leo and Brian with Des Cahill as MC – Leinster are asking all fans to stay around to show your appreciation for the retiring heroes.
Leinster Rugby are encouraging supporters to use the hashtag #ThanksLads across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to express your gratitude for Leo and Brian and some of the best ones have already been selected and will appear in the matchday programme.
Meanwhile, Edinburgh boss Alan Solomons has made three personnel changes to the side that suffered a 55-12 defeat at home to Munster.
Jack Cuthbert’s selection for the Scotland Sevens squad for this weekend’s final leg of the HSBC Sevens World Series in London and a knee injury to Tom Brown enforces two changes to the back-line.
Carl Bezuidenhout moves to full-back to take Cuthbert’s place, with Harry Leonard coming in to start his last game for the club at out-half, while Sam Beard takes over from Brown on the right wing.
The 22 year-old Ben Toolis has had his increasing involvement in the squad rewarded with his second start of the season at lock, allowing David Denton to return to the number 8 position in place of Cornell du Preez.
On the bench, Ben’s twin brother Alex Toolis has the opportunity to make his second appearance for the club, while centre Ben Atiga is involved in the matchday 23 for the first time since February.
LEINSTER: Zane Kirchner; Fergus McFadden, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Dave Kearney; Jimmy Gopperth, Isaac Boss; Jack McGrath, Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross, Leo Cullen (capt), Mike McCarthy, Sean O’Brien, Jordi Murphy, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Cian Healy, Martin Moore, Rhys Ruddock, Dominic Ryan, Luke McGrath, Ian Madigan, Rob Kearney.
EDINBURGH: Carl Bezuidenhout; Sam Beard, Matt Scott, Andries Strauss, Tim Visser; Harry Leonard, Greig Laidlaw (capt); Alasdair Dickinson, Ross Ford, Willem Nel, Grant Gilchrist, Ben Toolis, Mike Coman, Tomas Leonardi, David Denton.
Replacements: James Hilterbrand, Wicus Blaauw, Simon Berghan, Alex Toolis, Dimitri Basilaia, Grayson Hart, Piers Francis, Ben Atiga.
Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Peter Fitzgibbon, Kieran Barry (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Seamus Flannery (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Leinster to win: 1/80; Draw: 50/1; Edinburgh to win: 18/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Fergus McFadden (Leinster) – “We are in a strong position now going into the final league game before the play-offs and it’s crucial we win this last outing against Edinburgh to ensure a home semi-final.
“Thankfully, I turned a corner with (my knee injury) in the last 10 days and that has been a huge boost when you were thinking that your season could be gone. So I was back to full training this week, which is exciting for me.
“I would have hated to have missed out on that (end of season) buzz. It just lifts everyone at training. The good weather, the hard ground, the dry ball…it is everything that you play rugby for – to be involved at critical points in a season.
“Hopefully, we will have three more games left in the season and that is what the focus is on. Doing our utmost every day to ensure we put ourselves in the best place to perform.
“With legends like Leo and Drico hanging up their boots at the end of the season, I also want to cherish every game I have with them now.
“They have had incredible careers spanning nearly 15 seasons. It is going to be very weird not having them in the changing room next year. They are both top lads and I will really miss them. I just hope we can finish the season for them on a winning note.”
Alan Solomons (Edinburgh) – “Leinster are a benchmark team in Europe. They are an outstanding side that is well balanced and play a physical game at a high tempo, complemented by some very talented individuals.
“They’ve got a huge depth of experience in their squad that’s been built over a long time. They are bearing the fruits of the work that has been put in over the last 10 years.
“It is a massive challenge to play them at home. We know what to expect and we have to gear ourselves appropriately, grit our teeth and put in a good performance.”
Top Scorers – 2013/14 RaboDirect PRO12: Leinster – Points: Jimmy Gopperth 143; Tries: Noel Reid 7; Edinburgh – Points: Greig Laidlaw 78; Tries: Willem Nel 6
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Friday, January 4, 2013 – Edinburgh 16 Leinster 31, Murrayfield
Friday, December 20, 2013 – Edinburgh 11 Leinster 6, Murrayfield
– Leinster need just one match point to guarantee a home semi-final and two to guarantee that they will be top seeds
– The defending RaboDirect PRO12 champions have lost just one of their last eleven contests in the competition: 25-19 at the Ospreys in round 19
– The Leinstermen have not been defeated at the RDS in any competition since Ulster were the visitors for a PRO12 encounter in March 2013
– Edinburgh have slipped to four straight defeats in the PRO12 since their 23-19 victory over the Dragons at Rodney Parade in round 13
– Edinburgh have been defeated on all four visits to Irish provinces in all tournaments in 2013/14
– Edinburgh won 11-6 when the two sides met at Murrayfield in round 10. The Scottish side are going for a first season’s double over Leinster since the 2003/04 campaign
– Edinburgh have not won in Dublin since a trip to Donnybrook in November 2005