Defending champions Leinster face a serious test of their Guinness PRO14 credentials when they travel to face Edinburgh at BT Murrayfield on Friday evening.
With all to play for and both sides welcoming back Guinness Six Nations talent, the stage is very much set for a clash to remember in the Scottish capital.
What’s at stake?
Fifth in Conference B heading into the Friday night showdown, Edinburgh are aiming to regain momentum ahead of a late charge for the play-offs.
Having tasted victory three times on the trot over the Christmas and New Year period, the Edinburgh have won just one in four since, most recently losing to the ever-improving Benetton.
Visitors Leinster, meanwhile, are sitting pretty at the top of the Conference B table, with Leo Cullen’s side a whopping 22 points clear of closest challengers Benetton.
With a play-off berth already secured, they’ll be looking to quickly hit their stride after a short break from league action.
Team news (Edinburgh Rugby)
Scotland international back-row John Barclay will make his long-awaited Edinburgh debut in Friday’s encounter.
The flanker is named in a starting XV that features ten Scottish internationalists – four of whom started in last weekend’s remarkable 38-38 Calcutta Cup draw at Twickenham.
Darcy Graham, Hamish Watson, Ben Toolis and WP Nel all start in a strong home lineup.
Team news (Leinster Rugby)
There is a welcome return to competitive action for a number of players that have been out with injury for the last few months as Leinster look to get back up and running in the Guinness PRO14.
Luke McGrath is back from a knee injury to take his place at scrum-half, while Ireland hooker Seán Cronin starts in the pack.
Captain Rhys Ruddock is joined in the back row by Dan Leavy who has recovered from a calf injury ahead of what could be an intriguing battle of the breakdown against the likes of Barclay and Hamish Watson.
Edinburgh Rugby head coach Richard Cockerill said: “We need to be as strong as we can be because we’ve had some poor results where we’ve slipped up where we shouldn’t have.
“That’s put us in a situation where, with four league games to go, we’re probably going to have to win all of them if we want to qualify for the play-offs.
“There’s been a lot of disruption over the last two months because of the Six Nations, but it is now back to the bread and butter of the league and making sure we get it right tomorrow night.”
Leinster Rugby senior coach Stuart Lancaster: “The last two weeks were the calm before the storm. We’ve got a massive game on Friday night against Edinburgh who are fighting hard to get into a playoff spot.
“We’ve got the re-integration of the Ireland players coming back in this week alongside running a team to play Edinburgh.
“With the combination of 45/50-odd players fit and available for selection, we need to build a team that’s got cohesion and confidence and belief going into the Ulster game.”
Key battle Hamish Watson v Dan Leavy
Two international class No.7s are primed to go head-to-head on Friday evening as Hamish Watson does battle with fit-again Irishman Dan Leavy.
A standout for Scotland at the end of the Six Nations due to his ball-carrying and dynamism, the return of Watson beefs up an impressive Edinburgh back-row also containing Bill Mata.
His fight for supremacy with star Ireland international Leavy promises to excite and thrill – but it will also go a long way to deciding the outcome of Friday’s fixture.
Edinburgh Rugby have won just one of their last four Guinness PRO14 fixtures: 34-17 at home to Dragons in Round 15.
Did you know?
Leinster’s only Championship victory in Scotland since May 2015 came on their visit to BT Murrayfield in May 2016.
Edinburgh Rugby: Dougie Fife, Darcy Graham, James Johnstone, Matt Scott, Duhan van der Merwe, Jaco van der Walt, Henry Pyrgos (c), Pierre Schoeman, Ross Ford, WP Nel, Fraser McKenzie, Ben Toolis, John Barclay, Hamish Watson, Viliame Mata
Replacements: Cameron Fenton, Allan Dell, Simon Berghan, Callum Hunter-Hill, Magnus Bradbury, Charlie Shiel, Simon Hickey, Chris Dean
Leinster Rugby: Ciarán Frawley, Fergus McFadden, Noel Reid, Joe Tomane, Barry Daly, Ross Byrne, Luke McGrath, Ed Byrne, Seán Cronin, Michael Bent, Josh Murphy, Mick Kearney, Rhys Ruddock (c), Dan Leavy, Max Deegan
Replacements: Bryan Byrne, Jack McGrath, Andrew Porter, Jack Dunne, Oisín Dowling, Nick McCarthy, Jimmy O’Brien, Conor O’Brien
TV: At BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh, 19.35pm. Live on Premier Sports and Eir Sport
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (WRU)
Assistant Referees: Wayne Davies, Rhys Jones (both WRU)
A dominant display from the Edinburgh pack saw them record an impressive bonus-point win over Conference B table-toppers Leinster.
Reigning champions Leinster have already booked their place in the Guinness PRO14 Finals Series but the strength of Edinburgh’s forwards helped them notch just a second league victory in five games with a scintillating 28-11 triumph.
Sean Cronin’s try had put the visitors into an early lead at BT Murrayfield but WP Nel’s barrelling score and a penalty try turned things round by half-time.
Hooker Ross Ford and No.8 Bill Mata then secured the bonus point after the break and sealed a victory that puts Edinburgh’s own Finals Series hopes right back on track – extending Leinster’s struggles in Scotland that have seen them win there just once in the Guinness PRO14 since May 2015.
Leinster made the early running at BT Murrayfield and although returning Scotland prop Nel brilliantly held Mick Kearney up over the line early on, a scrum penalty shortly after gave Ciaran Frawley a simple shot in front of the posts for a 3-0 lead.
Jaco van der Walt hit the upright with a penalty of his own and things then got worse for Edinburgh as Fraser McKenzie was yellow-carded for a dangerous tackle.
And the visitors took full advantage of their extra man on 14 minutes – Josh Murphy catching a lineout before an inexorable driving maul towards the line ended with Cronin dotting down.
Frawley couldn’t add the conversion and the lead was then sliced to just a point on the half-hour mark as a number of Edinburgh phases ended with prop Nel powerfully driving Ed Byrne over the line with him, and van der Walt slotted the extras.
A Frawley three-pointer following a Jimmy O’Brien break extended the advantage to 11-7 but it was the Scots who went into half-time 14-11 ahead as a series of penalties saw referee Ben Whitehouse award a penalty try after another Leinster scrum infringement.
And Edinburgh carried their momentum into the second half as Dan Leavy was sin-binned for not releasing in the tackle before Ford bashed his way over from close range down the blindside – Van Der Walt’s sublime touchline conversion increasing the lead to ten points.
Relentless forward pressure from Richard Cockerill’s men then led to the bonus-point try on the hour, as 26 phases of up-the-jumper rugby ended with Mata battering his way over to essentially put the result beyond doubt at 28-11.
They then saw the game out, and even held Leinster up over the line at the death, to hand the Irish province just a third Guinness PRO14 defeat of the season.
21 Mar 2019