Matt O'Connor has tough act to follow as Joe Schmidt's successor at Leinster
MATT O'Connor will have an enormous act to follow when he begins his reign as Leinster head coach at Parc y Scarlets tonight.
The Australian succeeded Joe Schmidt at the helm this summer, following the most successful period in the province's history.
Under Schmidt, Leinster won back-to-back Heineken Cups in 2011 and 2012, while they were also crowned RaboDirect Pro12 champions last season.
Schmidt is now in charge of Ireland, leaving O'Connor to try and continue one of European rugby's greatest winning dynasties — and he has his players' backing.
"He's very positive, very fresh and he's a good communicator," said scrum-half Eoin Reddan.
"He's good at teaching people what he wants them to do, which is key because knowing what you want your team to do and teaching them that are two different things."
O'Connor has the players and the infrastructure at his disposal to mount serious challenges for both the Pro12 and Heineken Cup titles.
One problem which might prove quite tricky to solve, however, is Leinster's peculiarly poor record on the opening weekend of the season.
Despite reaching all four Pro12 play-off finals — as well as winning three Celtic titles — the former European champions have not won their first game of a campaign since 2007.
Their defeats have included a loss to the Scarlets in 2009, while they were soundly beaten by the Ospreys at the start of the 2011-12 campaign.
Most memorably, they were thrashed 45-20 by the Scarlets in last season's curtain-raiser, with Simon Easterby's men running in seven tries at Parc y Scarlets.
"He (O'Connor) has incredible knowledge of the game and we want to get going early on in the year because that's somewhere we have fallen down in the recent past," Reddan added.
"I mean we haven't won a first game for seven seasons."
Reddan is one of several Irish internationals playing tonight, and he will be joined at half-back by new signing Jimmy Gopperth.
Wing Luke Fitzgerald makes his first appearance since March, while an all-Test midfield sees Fergus McFadden pair up with Gordon D'Arcy for the first time.
There are two changes in the pack from last weekend's friendly defeat to Northampton, with Sean Cronin coming in at hooker ahead of Aaron Dundon, while Devin Toner is named in the second row in place of Quinn Roux.