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Benetton Rugby vs Leinster Rugby
Pro14, Round 1
Stadio Monigo, Treviso
Saturday, 28th September 2019, 18:15 (17:15 Irish time)

TV: Live on Eir Sports

Leinster begin their season in Italy looking to make it a hat-trick of Pro14 trophies. Obviously the start of the Pro14 is overshadowed by events in Japan, but at least with the time difference, there's not as much need to squeeze in silly kick-off times like with the World Cup in England four years ago.

For Leinster it's been a bit of a odd off-season and a much longer one than normal thanks to the late start to the season. There was a couple of unfortunate off the field events that no one came out of well, not least Leinster themselves. Things were very quiet on the transfer front with mainstays like Sean O'Brien, Jack McGrath and Noel Reid among those leaving and the returning Cian Kelleher the only player coming in. Once again, the academy is being trusted to replenish the squad and there were several exciting players promoted. However you do wonder how long it can supply both Leinster and the rest of the provinces with enough players to keep them competitive.

Last season's Pro14 win over Glasgow in the final gave a reasonably satisfactory end to a middling season in which Leinster were solid but rarely sensational. The manner of the defeat to Saracens will have occupied the minds of the players and management all summer and they will be hatching plans to overcome the English giants should they meet again this season.

Tomorrow Leinster kick off their season away to Benetton, the first of three scheduled meetings this season as the teams have been drawn in the same pool in Europe for the first time in fifteen years. Benetton were excellent last season and they were robbed in the quarter-finals against Munster. Their reward is a place in the Heineken Cup, the first time an Italian team have qualified under the present system. Last season Leinster won comfortably in Treviso but then Benetton held Leinster to a draw in the RDS.

Benetton have fifteen players away at the World Cup, one more than Leinster. But they have named a decent team with several familiar names. There's the two Ian's who are both ex-Leinster: Keatley who starts at out-half and McKinley who's on the bench. There's also the two excellent wingers in Ratuva Tavuyara and Monty Ioane and the experienced Alberto Sgarbi who skippers the team from the centre. The pack is less well known though and that should be where Leinster press home their advantage.

The big name on the Leinster team is one that shouldn't be there of course. Devin Toner was harshly omitted from the World Cup squad in favour of an average South African journeyman. In fairness Joe Schmidt may be ultimately proven right in handing Iain Henderson the starting spot alongside James Ryan to form a hugely dynamic boiler room duo. However the selection of the severely limited Jean Kleyn ahead of Toner on the laughable basis that he's some sort of hardman was a baffling choice.

England took one look at this so called colossus and smashed him out of the match. However one average game and one poor one was enough to get Kleyn into a World Cup squad ahead of both Toner and Ultan Dillane, another more qualified player. You'd wonder if the IRFU feel they need to justify bringing over project players by picking them even if their form doesn't justify it. Even if Toner's form has been affected by injury lately he deserved the same chance to rediscover it that Schmidt afforded to the likes of Rory Best, CJ Stander and Johnny Sexton.

Toner takes his place in the second row with Ross Molony. Peter Dooley, Ronan Kelleher and Michael Bent make up the rest of the front five. A young and exciting back row of Max Deegan, Will Connors and Caelan Doris completes the pack. Jamison Gibson Park is fit again after missing the end of last season due to injury and his experience will be vital. He teams up with Ross Byrne at half-back. Joe Tomane and Rory O'Loughlin make up the midfield and Dave Kearney, Adam Byrne and Jimmy O'Brien are the back three. Ireland under-20 internationals Michael Milne and Harry Byrne will make their Leinster debuts off the bench.

As it's early season don't expect any sort of classic but Leinster should have enough up front for a comfortable win.

Team Lineups

Benetton

Leinster Rugby
Teams Angelo Esposito 15 Jimmy O'Brien
Ratuva Tavuyara 14 Adam Byrne
Joaquin Riera 13 Rory O'Loughlin
Alberto Sgarbi (C) 12 Joe Tomane
Monty Ioane 11 Dave Kearney
Ian Keatley 10 Ross Byrne
Luca Petrozzi 9 Jamison Gibson-Park

Derrick Appiah 1 Peter Dooley
Tomas Baravalle 2 Ronan Kelleher
Michele Mancini Parri 3 Michael Bent
Irne Herbst 4 Ross Molony (C)
Eli Snyman 5 Devin Toner
Marco Lazzaroni 6 Max Deegan
Marco Barbini 7 Will Connors
Toa Halafihi 8 Caelan Doris

Replacements Engjel Makelara 16 James Tracy
Cherif Traore 17 Michael Milne
Filippo Alongi 18 Vakh Abdaladze
Niccolo Cannone 19 Josh Murphy
Giovanni Pettinelli 20
Scott Penny
Charly Trussardi 21 Hugh O'Sullivan
Ian McKinley 22 Harry Byrne
Luca Sperandio 23 Hugo Keenan

Not Considered
due to Injury
Ignacio Brex,
Dewaldt Duvenage,
Hame Faiva,
Ornel Gega,
Michele Lamaro,
Marco Zanon

Dan Leavy,
Ciaran Frawley,
Barry Daly,
James Lowe
Officials Referee: Ben Whitehouse (WRU, 59th Championship game),
Assistant Referees: Gianluca Gnecchi (FIR), Gwyn Morris (WRU),
TMO: Sean Brickell (WRU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2019-09-27

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