Leinster turn attentions back to the PRO12
April 12, 2012
Jamie Heaslip starts at No.8 for Leinster on Friday © PA Photos
The RaboDirect PRO12 returns to centre stage this weekend after seeing three of their representative's progress to the semi-final stage of the Heineken Cup.
Leinster kick-off the weekend's action on Friday when they entertain the European surprise package - Edinburgh. The Scottish side overcame Toulouse last weekend but currently lie second to last in the PRO12. Leinster meanwhile are riding high in the Celtic league in first and will look to continue their charge to the title with a commanding win in Dublin. They retain Ireland No.8 Jamie Heaslip in the back-row but the likes of Brian O'Driscoll and Jonathan Sexton drop out of the reckoning.
Edinburgh have kept the faith with the majority of the stars who downed Toulouse with Greig Laidlaw retaining the fly-half reins and Ross Ford starting at hooker. And Edinburgh coach Michael Bradley is fully aware of the threats Leinster pose.
"As league leaders and European pace-setters they will be keen make big statements between now and the continuation of their European title defence," Bradley said. "What pleases me is that we go into the match off the back of two wins over quality opposition, Scarlets and Toulouse, from which we can take a lot of confidence.
"As a team we must acknowledge the effort and commitment required on those days and prepare appropriately for another significant challenge this weekend at the RDS."
And in Friday's other match, the Newport Gwent Dragons host Treviso. The Dragons boast three of Wales' charges in the pack with Luke Charteris, Toby Faletau and Dan Lydiate all starting while Treviso have the likes of Alberto Sgarbi, Luke McLean and Alessandro Zanni in their line-up.
On Saturday, all eyes will be on the all-Welsh affair in Cardiff with the Blues hosting the Ospreys. The Blues have endured a torrid fortnight with Leinster extinguishing their Heineken Cup dreams with a brutal performance and the whole Gavin Henson affair. The Ospreys meanwhile are second in the table and will hope to keep up the pressure on Leinster who are a massive 10 points ahead in the standings. Cardiff have made five changes to the team that lost to Leinster. Harry Robinson is handed a start along with, Gavin Evans, Ceri Sweeney, John Yapp and Luke Hamilton. Dan Biggar is set to make his 100th appearance for the Ospreys but of great concern to coach Steve Tandy is the growing injury list - Ashley Beck, Tommy Bowe, Kristian Phillips, Jonathan Thomas, Huw Bennett, Duncan Jones, Will Price, Cai Griffiths, Richard Kelly, Ben John, Gareth Owen and Nikki Walker are all unavailable.
In Saturday's other matches, Ulster travel to Connacht but Brian McLaughlin's side will be without All Blacks prop John Afoa after he was hit with a four-week suspension following their Heineken Cup quarter-final win over Munster. Their opponents last Sunday, Munster, journey to Glasgow in Saturday's other kick-off.
Ulster have made 12 changes from the side which dispatched Munster with only Stefan Terblance, Tom Court and Ian Humphreys retained. Gavin Duffy starts at fullback for Connacht with him having just penned a new deal to keep him at Galway until 2014.
And on Sunday, the Scarlets will travel to beleagured side Aironi. The Italian side's tenure in the league looks to be over due to financial difficulties while the Scarlets will hope to bounce back from their Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final defeat to Brive last Sunday. The Scarlets will be captained by Jonathan Davies with Dom Day and Aaron Shingler also handed starts.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Huw Richards profiles French forward Walter Spanghero, a man who even rugby's hard men thought was a tough nut
"To be part of the Commonwealth Games, I'd wear anything. I'd wear a clown suit." Tom Hamilton talks to Scotland's Sean Lamont
Scrum Sevens looks back at how rugby has fared in both the early Olympics and the past four Commonwealth Games
"Cheika's been phenomenal. He gives you an incredible level of mental strength." Tom Hamilton talks to Waratahs star Jacques Potgieter