Rugby: De Luca aware of fight for places

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NICK DE LUCA is taking nothing for granted about an immediate return to Edinburgh Rugby ranks against Leinster at Murrayfield in the Rabo Direct Pro 12 league on Friday – despite playing a major role in Scotland’s World Cup campaign.

The 27-year-old centre started two of the four matches and came off the bench in the concluding sectional clash with England to gain his 29th cap.

But, a feature of the sojourn, according to De Luca, was being able to keep close tabs on his colleagues back home and he acknowledges strides being made in his midfield domain particularly.

“Don’t ask me how but footage of Edinburgh’s games, including the win over Munster, just appeared on my laptop, which I was pleased to watch.

“At centre, James King and Matt Scott are playing well and to get myself in the team I’ll have to show my worth at training then, hopefully, coach Michael Bradley will give me a go.

“Against Munster the youngsters were phenomenal and the attitude of the entire squad, from 1-22, was great in breakdown and defence with the general work-rate outstanding as well.

“Hopefully those of us returning from the World Cup will help re-produce that from here on.”

Edinburgh will be looking to complete a ‘hat-trick’ of home wins and making the feat more special is the way players in their first pro season have stepped up – a fact acknowledged by De Luca, who added: “Matt Scott has caught my eye when doing really well and another I’ve noticed has been Gregor Hunter,

“Up front Grant Gilchrist has been taking his chances along with some really good youngsters and that can only be positive for the future.”

One of the many factors De Luca has in his favour where selection is concerned is a key role in two of the three wins Edinburgh have posted over Leinster on their last four trips to Murrayfield.

These reigning European champions have, in the past, been criticised for pushing squad rotation to the point where some critics have been questioning whether they risk devaluing the domestic product at times.

However, with a derby clash away to Munster looming as part of the two-game lead up to a Heineken Cup they will be seeking to defend, coach Joe Schmidt has already dropped a heavy hint that the line-up will be crammed with many of the 14 players they provided for Ireland’s World Cup squad.

A statement from the Dublin outfit this week read: “Management can call upon the likes of Isaac Boss, Sean Cronin, Leo Cullen, Shane Jennings, Fergus McFadden, Eoin Reddan and Jonathan Sexton for the trip to the Scottish capital.”

Recognition is also given to a recent match-winner.

“Isa Nacewa’s 14-point haul in the 30-20 victory over Connacht in the league last time out brought his season’s tally to 70 points in six games and it also took him to 301 career points for the province in 81 appearances.”

Clearly Nacewa is another dangerman but De Luca is remaining open minded about whether he might find himself up against the likes of him, Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy while insisting he’ll be ready if required.

“I’m not sure what team they’ll field as, obviously, they were out in New Zealand a week longer than Scotland.

“But I’ve always loved playing Leinster and feel I’ve always played well against them,” said De Luca.

Meanwhile, it could be a red-letter occasion for Ross Rennie who is standing by to make his 50th league appearance.

Flanker Rennie, who played in the team that won at home to Leinster last season, is ready to draw on memories of his first World Cup, saying: “I have brought back quite a lot. You do learn in that environment, picking things up all the time. Hopefully it is going to come out gradually with Edinburgh where I can influence thing and help some of the young guys who are coming through.

“The World Cup was an amazing experience, an emotional whirl getting sent out there. I learned that the tiniest margins separate winning and losing games and that is what we have to work on and get right to be able to kill opponents off.”

Rennie’s pre-final prediction of an All Black triumph has been fulfilled and the conditions under which skipper Richie McCaw’s team operated certainly made an impression.

“The World Cup has shown rugby at that level is all about the breakdown area and how clever you can be about getting quick ball. That is everything,” he said, while noting events off-field.

“New Zealand might beat a team by 30 points but locals still slag them off! I suppose it does help in making them the best.”