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Leinster Rugby vs Benetton
Heineken Champions Cup Pool 1
The RDS Arena, Dublin
Saturday, 16th November 2019, 15:15

TV: Live on BT Sports

In the aftermath of a World Cup, especially yet another disappointing one for Ireland, it's hard to find the usual excitement that normally greets the opening weekend of the Heineken Champions Cup.

However both the fans and players have to get on with it and hopefully once the games get going it will be business as usual. Leinster are looking to reclaim the trophy they relinquished to Saracens in Newcastle last May. In their pool they've drawn Lyon (currently 1st in the Top 14) and Northampton (currently 2nd in the Aviva Premiership) as well as Benetton, the first Italian team to qualify on merit. Leinster are in the same pool as an Italian side in Europe for first time in fifteen years.

For years an Italian side was always the dream draw as you were almost guaranteed two bonus point wins against the hapless opposition. At one point it seemed Leicester seemed to draw an Italian team every season. However it's just Leinster's luck that they've finally drawn an Italian team once they have gotten their act together. Benetton head coach Kieran Crowley has done a terrific job since he arrived in 2016 and he was named top Pro14 coach last season and rewarded with a three-year contract extension until 2022.

He's turned them from a shambles to a very well drilled team who are hard to beat and also play pretty decent rugby. Benetton actually have the best record of any Pro14 team at the RDS in the last two seasons. They won two seasons ago and drew an entertaining game last April. Admittedly both those games were dead rubbers for Leinster and Benetton will be doing well to repeat those feats against a first choice Leinster team in European mode. Crowley has named a team that's missing some big names like Luca Morisi, Sebastian Negri and Ratuva Tavuyara who are currently injured.

Former Leinster, Connacht and Munster out-half Ian Keatley has somewhat surprisingly been given the nod at out-half instead of the current international starter Tommaso Allan. Nasi Manu and Abraham Steyn will bring some abrasive carrying to the back row and Dean Budd is a reliable old warhorse in the second row.

Leinster come into this game full of confidence after blowing Connacht away last weekend in a surprisingly easy win. Leo Cullen has recalled most of his internationals at this stage but some high profile players like Tadhg Furlong and Rob Kearney are absent this weekend. Johnny Sexton is back to captain the team from number 10 and Jordan Larmour, Dave Kearney and Garry Ringrose come in to start in the outside backs.

In the front five the only change is the return of James Ryan who pushes Scott Fardy onto the bench. There's a whole new backrow with Rhys Ruddock and Josh van der Flier starting on the flanks and Caelan Doris given the nod at number eight in the absence of Jack Conan.

In spite of Benetton's good recent record at the RDS it's hard to see anything except a comfortable Leinster win tomorrow afternoon.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Teams Jordan Larmour 15 Jayden Hayward
Dave Kearney 14 Angelo Esposito
Garry Ringrose 13 Ignacio Brex
Joe Tomane 12 Alberto Sgarbi (C)
James Lowe 11 Luca Sperandio
Johnny Sexton (C)
10 Ian Keatley
Luke McGrath 9 Dewaldt Duvenage

Cian Healy 1 Nicola Quaglio
Ronan Kelleher 2 Hame Faiva
Andrew Porter 3 Marco Riccioni
Devin Toner
4 Irne Herbst
James Ryan 5 Dean Budd
Rhys Ruddock 6 Giovanni Pettinelli
Josh van der Flier 7 Abraham Steyn
Caelan Doris 8 Nasi Manu

Replacements James Tracy 16 Engjel Makelara
Peter Dooley 17 Federico Zani
Michael Bent 18 Tiziano Pasquali
Scott Fardy 19 Marco Fuser
Max Deegan 20 Marco Lazzaroni
Jamison Gibson-Park 21 Toa Halafihi
Ross Byrne 22 Tito Tebaldi
Rory O'Loughlin 23 Tommaso Allan

Not Considered
due to Injury
Dan Leavy,
Barry Daly,
Jack Conan,
Sean Cronin,
Fergus McFadden,
Vakh Abdaladze,
Robbie Henshaw

Derrick Appiah,
Tomas Baravalle,
Marco Barbini,
Simone Ferrari,
Ornel Gega,
Michele Lamaro,
Luca Morisi,
Sebastian Negri,
Federico Ruzza,
Eli Snyman,
Ratuva Tavuyara,
Alessandro Zanni,
Marco Zanon
Officials Referee: Pierre Brousset (FFR),
Assistant referees: Tual Trainini (FFR), Laurent Cardona (FFR),
TMO: Eric Briquet-Campin (FFR)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2019-12-19