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Leinster Rugby vs Llanelli Scarlets
Royal Dublin Society
Friday, 05 October 2007, 19:10

Referee: James Jones (WRU)
Sub Referee: Colin Stanley (IRFU)
Touch Judge: Seamus Flannery (IRFU)

Amidst the doom and depression of Ireland's dismal showing over in France, there was a silver cloud for Leinster fans last Friday.  Leinster's win over in Cardiff was a fantastic result, especially in taking a bonus point home as well.

Leinster's problems away from home last season were well documented but hopefully this performance will be a marker for the season.  Some might say it was a weak Cardiff side, but that team was strong enough to win their first three games of the season.

Once again it was great to see young Leinster players coming to the fore.  Jonny Sexton was again very influential with a fifteen-point haul as well as setting up two other tries.  Despite picking up a yellow card, Fergus McFadden made an impressive first competitive start.  Luke Fitzgerald again looked sharp as a tack and scored two more tries to add to the try he got against Edinburgh.  He's looking hungry and he'll want to add to his tally against Llanelli tomorrow night.

Luke starts on the left wing again while Gary Brown wins his fiftieth cap for Leinster on the other wing.  Gary hasn't always had the easiest time with Leinster, often spending long periods out of the team.  But he's always had a great attitude and done his best with his limited opportunities.  He deserves a warm ovation from the fans tomorrow night.

The only change to the backs is the inclusion of Cillian Willis in place of the injured Chris Whitaker.  Willis has been an unused sub for the past two games and with all the talk of young players, he'll be itching to remind Leinster fans of his abilities.  He was thrown in at the deep end last season when Whitaker and Guy Easterby were injured before the start of the Heineken Cup campaign.  Chosen to start against Gloucester he impressed everyone with his maturity, bravery and passing kills.  Unfortunately a shoulder injury ended his season after only a few appearances but he'll be looking to make up for lost time.

In the pack there is some interesting rotation again.  Juan Francisco Gomez returns to the front row but this time at loosehead with Stan Wright dropping to the bench.  In the second row there is a doubt over captain Leo Cullen and Devin Toner will deputise if he doesn't make it.  In the back row Shane Jennings shifts over to blind-side to make way for the return of Leinster's newest centurion Keith Gleeson.  It looks a very quick and mobile pack.

Like Leinster, Llanelli are known as a team who like to throw the ball around.  The two games between the sides last season were both try-fests, seven in the 33-21 away defeat and ten in the remarkable 44-34 win at Donnybrook in January.  As with Ireland, Wales had a devastating early exit at the World Cup, but Llanelli, like Leinster, haven't recalled their international players yet.  Also like Leinster they make three changes for this match, and by remarkable coincidence they're at scrum-half, prop and flanker.

In the backs the lively Liam Davies replaces Gavin Cattle at scrum-half to partner Ryan Priestland, Wales latest "bright young thing", at half-back.  The have a very experienced three-quarter line led by All Black Regan King, one of the finest centres in the league.  In the pack Deacon Manu replaces Ben Broster at tight-head prop and Jonathon Edwards' introduction at open-side flanker causes a reshuffle in the backrow with captain James Bater going to blindside and Dafydd Jones starting at number eight.

Llanelli lost two of their three opening games of the season, but returned to form last week with a 34-11 win over Connacht.  They're not a side to be taken lightly with plenty of experience in their pack with Manu, Jones, Vernon Cooper and Phil John.  Similarly they have plenty of experience and pace in their backline.

But this Leinster team is full of confidence at the moment and look well placed for a third win in a row.


Team Lineups
  Leinster Rugby   Llanelli Scarlets
Teams Rob Kearney 15 Morgan Stoddart
Gary Brown 14 Garan Evans
Fergus McFadden 13 Regan King
Christian Warner 12 Gavin Evans
Luke Fitzgerald 11 Matthew Watkins
Jonathan Sexton 10 Rhys Priestland
Cillian Willis 9 Liam Davies
Juan Francisco-Gomez 1 Phil John
Bernard Jackman 2 James Hayter
Stephen Knoop 3 Deacon Manu
Trevor Hogan 4 Vernon Cooper
Leo Cullen (C) / Devin Toner 5 Adam Eustace
Shane Jennings 6 James Bater (C)
Keith Gleeson 7 Jonathan Edwards
Jamie Heaslip 8 Dafydd Jones
Replacements Brian Blaney 16 Iestyn Thomas
Stan Wright 17 Ken Owens
Devin Toner / Cian Healy 18 Lou Reed
Cameron Jowitt 19 Gavin Thomas
Stephen Keogh 20 Gavin Cattle
Chris Keane 21 Jon Davies
Ross McCarron 22 Nathan Brew
Not Considered
due to Injury
Chris Whitaker
Michael Berne
Ronnie McCormack

by Jim O'Connor, © 2007-10-04