Preview: Aironi v Leinster

Date published: March 1 2012

Table-toppers Leinster welcome back full-back Luke Fitzgerald for Friday's RaboDirect Pro12 meeting with Aironi at Stadio Zaffanella.

Table-toppers Leinster welcome back full-back Luke Fitzgerald for Friday's RaboDirect Pro12 clash with Aironi.

A combination of hip and neck trouble have meant that Fitzgerald hasn't turned out for Leinster in more than two months.

The 24-year-old slots into the side in place of Isa Nacewa who drops to the bench. Elsewhere in the back three, Andrew Conway comes in on the wing at the expense of David Kearney.

Brendan Macken is joined in the midfield by Eoin O'Malley, with Macken moving to inside centre to accommodate O'Malley's arrival.

There are two changes to the back row, with number eight Rhys Ruddock and flank Kevin McLaughlin replacing Leo Auva'a and Dominic Ryan respectively. In one further switch, Devin Toner is at lock instead of Mark Flanagan.

Meanwhile, the Italians will be looking to forget the last-minute loss suffered last Sunday against the Dragons, who denied Aironi their third consecutive home win in the competition.

Aironi are forced to make five changes in the starting line-up from last week: two in the backs, two in the back row and one amongst the locks.

In the backline Giulio Toniolatti will start at full-back in place of Alberto Benettin, while Rugby Rovigo winger Riccardo Pavan will make his third start of the season for Aironi. The back-three is completed by Samoan wing Sinoti Sinoti while there are no changes in the centres, with Roberto Quartaroli playing alongside Gabriel Pizarro, who collects his 40th Aironi cap.

The same milestone was reached by Tito Tebaldi one week ago. Tebaldi is confirmed at scrum-half with Naas Olivier at 10.

With Nick Williams out due to a muscular injury, Rowland Phillips is forced to make two changes in the back-row. Josh Sole returns at number eight, with Simone Favaro (back from international duty) and Nicola Cattina as flanker.

Last week's man-of-the-match Joshua Furno is ruled out. George Biagi will take his place in the second row alongside Carlo Del Fava, who will return next week into the Azzurri group for the Six Nations. There are no changes in the front-row, with Matias Aguero and Lorenzo Romano as props and skipper Roberto Santamaria hooking.

Luciano Orquera is back after an injury and will start from the bench. The international fly-half could be an important option from the bench for Aironi.

Form: Aironi came within 60 seconds of a fourth victory this season in the RaboDirect PRO12 at home to Newport Gwent Dragons on Sunday. Aironi have now picked up league points in each of their last three home games, Leinster staged a late comeback to preserve their unbeaten run at Firhill on Saturday – the province were 10-nil down with just over a quarter of the game left and drew 10-all. Should the Leinstermen avoid defeat in this game they will equal Munster's all time tournament record of 14 games without defeat set during 2011. Leinster have won all three previous meetings with Aironi, and have lost just once in three previous visits to Italy in this competition.

The teams:

Aironi: 15 Giulio Toniolatti, 14 Riccardo Pavan, 13 Roberto Quartaroli, 12 Gabriel Pizarro, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Naas Olivier, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Josh Sole, 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Nicola Cattina, 5 Carlo Del Fava, 4 George Biagi, 3 Lorenzo Romano, 2 Roberto Santamaria (capt), 1 Matias Aguero.
Replacements: 16 Fabio Ongaro, 17 Alberto De Marchi, 18 Salvatore Perugini, 19 Luca Redolfini, 20 Filippo Ferrarini, 21 Tyson Keats, 22 Luciano Orquera, 23 Gilberto Pavan.

Leinster: 15 Luke Fitzgerald, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Eoin O'Malley, 12 Brendan Macken, 11 Fionn Carr, 10 Ian Madigan, 9 Isaac Boss, 8 Rhys Ruddock, 7 Shane Jennings (capt), 6 Kevin McLaughlin, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Damian Browne, 3 Nathan White, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Heinke van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Aaron Dundon, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Jamie Hagan, 19 Leo Auva'a, 20 Dominic Ryan, 21 John Cooney, 22 Noel Reid, 23 Isa Nacewa.

Date: Friday, March 2
Venue: Stadio Zaffanella
Kick-off: 19:00 (18:00 GMT)
Referee: Andrew Macpherson
Assistant Referees: Stefano Penne and Filippo Bertelli
Television Match Official: Alan Falzone