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Llanelli Scarlets vs Leinster Rugby
Stradey Park, Llanelli
Saturday, 29 March 2008, 17.30

Television: Live - Setanta Sports 2

It's a massive game for Leinster tomorrow evening against second placed Scarlets. Games between Leinster and Llanelli are generally great for the neutrals, with a remarkable 26 tries scored in the last three meetings between the sides. Whether we'll see such a free-scoring game this time is debatable, given the harsh weather forecast, but either way it'll be a vital game for both teams.

Given they'd such high hopes at the start of the season, it's been a disappointing year for the Scarlets. Like Leinster they were in a Heineken Cup "Group of Death", so tough in fact that they didn't win a single pool match. They failed to do much of anything in the EDF either so again, like Leinster, the Magners League is all they have to play for this season. To that end a win for them tomorrow is non-negotiable. A defeat will leave them at the very least thirteen points behind Leinster with only four games to make up the difference, in other words, a near impossible task. In securing a bonus-point win over Cardiff the last time out, the Scarlets looked something close to their best, so Leinster will have to be on their guard.

The Scarlets have made four changes to the team that beat Cardiff so well. Most of the changes come in the front five where Scottish internationals Bruce Douglas and Scott Macleod come in for Deacon Manu and Adam Eustace respectively. Phil John replaces Iestyn Thomas in the only other change to the pack. Recently retired Irish international Simon Easterby is out with a knee injury but the Scarlets can still field a strong all-international back-row in Dafydd Jones, Gavin Thomas and Alix Popham.

In Easterby's absence Dwayne Peel captains the team from scrum-half in what will be one of his final appearances at Stradey Park before his move to Sale next season. He forms a massively experienced partnership with Stephen Jones. Welsh international Mark Jones comes in on the wing for Nathan Brew in the only other change to the team. All-Black Regan King in the centre will, as always, be one to watch for the Scarlets.

Leinster have made four changes, two positional, for this match. The flankers are rotated once again with Stephen Keogh's selection at six meaning Shane Jennings takes over at openside from Keith Gleeson. In the backs Jonny Sexton is recalled with Felipe Contepomi moving out to take Christian Warner's place in the centre.

Sexton and Contepomi have combined well in the few times they've played together this year with their passing game giving Leinster an extra attacking dimension. Berne's selection ahead of Warner may surprise some but Berne has been playing well, scoring two tries in the last two games, and is probably defensively stronger with the threat of King in mind. With the back three on top form they'll be hoping to see some extra ball.

That said, with the weather forecast bad, it will probably come down to the pack to slug it out up front and wear down the Scarlets front five.

Malcolm O'Kelly's record breaking 140th Leinster cap will dominate the headlines and it will be just reward for such a loyal servant if the team can grab a vital win.

Team Lineups
  Llanelli Scarlets   Leinster Rugby
Teams Morgan Stoddart 15 Rob Kearney
Dafydd James 14 Shane Horgan
Regan King 13 Michael Berne
Gavin Evans 12 Felipe Contepomi
Mark Jones 11 Luke Fitzgerald
Stephen Jones 10 Jonathan Sexton
Dwayne Peel 9 Chris Whitaker
Phil John 1 Ollie Le Roux
Mahronri Schwalger 2 Bernard Jackman
Bruce Douglas 3 Stan Wright
Scott Macleod 4 Leo Cullen
Lou Reed 5 Malcolm O'Kelly
Dafydd Jones 6 Stephen Keogh
Gavin Thomas 7 Shane Jennings
Alix Popham 8 Jamie Heaslip
Replacements Deacon Manu / Ben Broster 16 Brian Blaney
Matthew Rees 17 Cian Healy / Stephen Knoop
Adam Eustace 18 Trevor Hogan
Nathan Thomas 19 Keith Gleeson / Cameron Jowitt
Gavin Cattle 20 Chris Keane
Cieron Thomas 21 Christian Warner
Matthew Watkins 22 Girvan Dempsey
Not Considered
due to Injury
    Brian O'Driscoll
Gordon D'Arcy
Fergus McFadden
Officials Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (IRFU)
Sub Referee: Hugh Watkins (WRU)
Touch Judge: Simon Harris (WRU)
TMO: Tony Rowlands (WRU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2008-03-28