Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill believes Leinster will have viewed the visit of Edinburgh as a “comfortable” opportunity to bring back four of their British and Irish Lions for a first Guinness Pro14 outing of the season.
Cockerill’s men are in Dublin tonight looking to end a two-game losing run and know they are in for a testing evening at the RDS, with stand-off Johnny Sexton back as captain and an all-Lions front row of Jack McGrath, Tadhg Furlong and Seán Cronin unleashed at the Scottish visitors.
Four-time competition winners Leinster will be looking to bounce back from their 38-19 loss to the Cheetahs in South Africa and Cockerill knows his side, which shows nine changes from the one that started the 28-8 defeat at Scarlets, are in for a fierce examination.
“Leinster have obviously come off a loss that they wouldn’t have wanted to have,” said the coach. “Leinster will expect to win, they’re bringing internationals back against Edinburgh at home. They’d expect that to be a nice comfortable fixture to get them some game time in.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge but the reality is that everyone will expect us to go there and struggle. We’ve got to go and be in the battle.
“We need to make sure we get everything right, we go and learn more about the players and keep building on the mentality of how we play against big teams. The reality is that their squad is, on paper, a lot stronger than ours. They are bringing in Lions. We’re not a club in that place at the moment.”
As Leinster bring back their big guns, Cockerill is without the Test trio of club captain Magnus Bradbury, tighthead WP Nel and hooker Ross Ford, all of whom are being rested in accordance with the guidelines managing national squad players. Lock, Fraser McKenzie, will skipper the side in the absence of Bradbury.
Full-back Glenn Bryce and Scotland wing Dougie Fife rotate in for Jason Harries and Blair Kinghorn – as the latter drops to the bench and Tom Brown keeps his spot on the left flank.
Scotland Sevens player James Jonhstone makes his first start of the season and is partnered in the centres by Phil Burleigh. A revamped half-back partnership sees Jason Tovey make his first start of the season alongside Sam Hidalgo-Clyne who replaces Nathan Fowles.
“I am keen to see how he goes,” said Cockerill of Johnstone, who has been training with Edinburgh since pre-season and also turning out for Melrose. “He has got a lot about him. The combination of him and Phil Burleigh is really good. He has a lot of pace, and playing club rugby and doing very well.
“Guys need opportunities and this is an opportunity to see where he is at and how he is developing. There is a lot of talent there and a lot of potential moving forward.
“I get the club games which I watch and see him every week in training and he is always causing problems defensively with his pace. Obviously there is competition for places and six or so games in I am starting to find out how people perform under pressure, how they perform at training week in and week out.
“I am learning all the time about the squad and the future of the players in the squad moving forward.”
Cockerill revealed that the club would not be appealing the four-week suspension handed out to Michele Rizzo for his red card in Llanelli, but hopes that won’t be the short-term loan loosehead’s last contribution in an Edinburgh jersey.
“We are not going to appeal as it was fair,” said the Englishman. “Hopefully we will have Allan Dell back next week to play some part so that eases things a little bit but yes, it is not ideal. That is the game sometimes.
“We will see. We will discuss with Leicester what their plans are but I would like to keep him a little bit longer for cover for Dicko [Al Dickinson, who is out for the rest of the year] and Dell will probably be involved in the autumn Tests so we need cover there. So there is still an opportunity to for Mickey to stay.”
Edinburgh team: 15: Glenn Bryce, 14: Tom Brown, 13: James Johnstone, 12: Phil Burleigh, 11: Dougie Fife, 10: Jason Tovey, 9: Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 1: Darryl Marfo,2: Stuart McInally, 3: Simon Berghan, 4: Fraser McKenzie (c), 5: Grant Gilchrist, 6: Jamie Ritchie, 7: Hamish Watson, 8: Cornell du Preez. Subs: Neil Cochrane, Murray McCallum, Kevin Bryce, Anton Bresler, John Hardie, Nathan Fowles, Blair Kinghorn, Robbie Fruean.