Leinster out to seal home semi
April 22, 2010
Glasgow's Colin Shaw takes on the Ulster defence during his side's victory at the Firhill Arena © PA Photos
The Magners League play-off picture is set to become a little clearer this weekend with the penultimate round of the regular season.
Leaders Leinster kick things off on Friday night against fourth-placed Glasgow and need to collect the points after failing to book their home semi-final against basement side Connacht in midweek. But while the Irish province are guaranteed passage into the post-season their Scottish rivals remain on the brink with Edinburgh, Dragons and Cardiff Blues still in the mix.
Leinster have named a young side for the game, with coach Michael Cheika hoping that his fringe player deliver. Paul O'Donohoe and Chris Keane are the halfback combination while hooker Bernard Jackman takes the captain's armband. Scrum-half Chris Cusiter returns to lead the Warriors and Hefin O'Hare replaces DTH van der Merwe on the wing as the Canadian international has a dead leg.
Elsewhere, second plays third with Ospreys facing a daunting trip to Thomond Park to tackle Munster in our Game of the Week. The Welsh side will be licking their wounds having had their wings clipped by Leinster last time out while Munster's impressive victory over Connacht at the Sportsground leaves them well-placed to push for a priceless home draw in the final four.
Fifth-placed Edinburgh will look to pounce on any slip-ups among the top four as they tackle strugglers Ulster at Murrayfield on Sunday. Defeat at the hands of the Dragons dented the Scottish side's hopes and will need to bounce back to winning ways if they are to reclaim a place in the play-off places. Ulster's hopes of a play-off place have long gone but they will be keen to prevent Connacht beating them to Ireland's third Heineken Cup spot.
Openside Roddy Grant will skipper Edinburgh as Mike Blair has been dropped to the bench, with Greig Laidlaw handed the No.9 jersey. Scotland centre Nick de Luca makes his return in midfield and Ben Cairns shifts to fullback in a backline reshuffle. Ulster have reshuffled their backline as Jamie Smith returns at fullback, allowing Simon Danielli to move to the wing. Niall O'Connor starts at fly-half. Rory Best leads the side from hooker while BJ Botha returns at tight-head.
Connacht will be out to continue their strong finish to the season after defeating leaders Leinster with victory over fellow strugglers Scarlets. The Scarlets have been able to recall British & Irish Lions hooker Matthew Rees to their front-row for the game but veteran pivot Stephen Jones has been ruled out by an ankle problem. Martin Roberts returns to partner Rhys Priestland at halfback. Priestland will be up against the impressive Ian Keatley in the Connacht No.10 jersey.
In the weekend's other game, the Dragons entertain Cardiff Blues at Rodney Parade on Friday night with both sides facing a win-or-bust scenario in their bid to extend their respective seasons. The Blues have handed Sam Warburton the No.7 jersey and Andy Powell switches from blindside to No.8. In the absence of Gethin Jenkins John Yapp starts at loosehead and Paul Tito skippers the side from the second-row.
The Dragons have been dealt several injury blows in the build-up to the game, with promising fly-half Jason Tovey and Wales international Luke Charteris both ruled out. James Arlidge steps in for Tovey, while Hoani MacDonald partners Rob Sidoli at lock in the absence of Charteris.