This evening Leinster welcome Edinburgh to the RDS in the Guinness Pro 12. Leinster have made eight changes to the side that scored a hugely important win in France last week, and will be looking to use the momentum of that crucial away victory to steer them to a dominant performance tonight.
Luke McGrath is at 9, a much deserved opportunity for the scrum half who has had an impressive start to the season. McGrath has injected pace and direction into Leinster from the bench as of late, as he finds Isaac Boss and Eoin Reddan standing in the way of his coveted starting spot. With the two veterans not getting any younger, McGrath needs to be given games like this to further hone his skills. From his performances thus far this season, he won’t disappoint, and it’ll add a tempo and spring to the Leinster backline.
The other changes in this weekend’s clash are in the midfield, with a new centre partnership – Noel Reid continues his return from injury, while Ben Te’o makes his first start in not only the blue of Leinster, but in the code of rugby union.
It took Noel Reid time to settle into the professional game. The St. Michaels out half originally looked like a player who mightn’t be able to cut it at this level. But a switch to the 12 channel changed all that, and Reid has flourished in that role. He looked more comfortable and effective than he had been at 10, and we really began to see Reid develop. His passing game, his distribution and ball handling are excellent, and he has a quick mind. And he’s only getting better.
This playmaking 12 role is trending across Ireland at the moment, and it suits Noel Reid’s style of play. Good decision making, good ball handling skills, he has a strong turn of pace and is nimble enough on his feet. He’s good now, but he could become great under the guise of Matt O’Connor and Joe Schmidt.
O’Connor’s merits as a coach have been, can be, and will be debated all day long. But one thing the Australian does know is the ‘second 5/8th‘ role. This Anitpodean style of play has its roots deeply rooted in the Southern Hemisphere, and is what O’Connor will have grown up with. A skilful ball player playing inside a more physical 13, O’Connor can guide Reid further into this role. It’ll also suit new arrival Ben Te’o, and hopefully bring the best out of him.
Te’o is an abrasive player. While he’s an unknown quantity playing union, he’s played enough rugby league for us to gauge what we can expect from the former South Sydney Rabbitoh forward. The physical nature of Ben Te’o means we’ll see him make a lot of carries up the middle of the pitch, and the powerful centre’s ability to break the gain line can really create some momentum for Leinster.
The aggressive direct nature of Te’o’s play is something Leinster have missed. He runs clever lines, and he runs them strong – he’ll be a threat any time he has ball in hand. Hopefully he can keep that aggression channelled, with question marks over his temperament.
Leinster can really use the Reid-Te’o partnership to devastating effect if it comes off. Te’o is a strong man, and he’s hard to stop. He’ll draw in at least one defender every time he runs a hard line. This will keep the Edinburgh defence honest, and keep them in tight. With Reid’s passing, all he has to do is screen Te’o – throw a pass behind him – to any of the three quarter line. Putting width on the ball quick will bring Kirchner, Fitzgerald and Fanning into the game, and allow them to run hard at Edinburgh in the wider channels where there’s a bit of space.
This brings us to another skill in Te’o’s arsenal – his offloading. He has a good knack of getting his hands free in the tackle after making the initial burst through the defensive line, making him a good link man. Creating a broken defence puts Edinburgh under pressure, and all Te’o needs is good support from the rest of his team who can run a good angle off him. Fitzgerald in particular runs fantastic support lines, and could cause Edinburgh huge trouble on the retreat.
A player blighted by injury, Luke Fitzgerald has been extremely unlucky. He’s one of the most gifted and talented players we’ve had in the modern era. A British and Irish Lion, Grand Slam winner, Heineken Cup winner all before the age of 23. He is the creative spark that Leinster and Ireland are missing. A fit again Fitzgerald can tear it up with the best of the best, and we can only hope he can stay injury free and remind us of what made him a world class attacker.
With Tadgh Furlong and Jack Conan starting and Dan Leavy back in the mix – it’ll be an interesting game, and hopefully a good performance for the boys in blue.
Jonathan Fitzpatrick, Pundit Arena.
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