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Scarlets vs Leinster Rugby
Parc Y Scarlets, Llanelli
Sunday, 21 February 2009, 17:30

Television: Live - Setanta Ireland

It seems an age since Leinster last played in the Magners League against Cardiff and certainly a lot of water has passed under the bridge since. Leinster secured a Heineken Cup quarter-final (albeit in the most excruciatingly tense manner imaginable) and Ireland have made their best start to a Six Nations in years. It would be tempting to downplay the importance of this fixture, however it's still a vital game for Leinster's hopes of retaining their championship.

Leinster lie in third place in the table, just two points off leaders Munster. With Munster likely victors over Edinburgh this weekend, a win is vital to keep as close as possible to them before the vital match-up on the 4th of April.

It's been a tough season for the Scarlets. Their Heineken Cup campaign was pretty much over before it started although they did get something of a boost from beating Stade Francais at home. Their Anglo-Welsh cup campaign was also a damp squib so their sole focus now is on the Magners League. They are in decent enough shape for a challenge though as they're only five points off the leaders themselves. They'll be looking for some momentum and a win against the champions would be the perfect start for them.

Like Leinster, they are missing four internationals to the Six Nations squad and also have a number of long-term injuries so they have named an unfamiliar looking team. Non-the less there are some experienced players dotted through the team so they should not be taken lightly. Former Wallaby David Lyons starts at number eight and makes up a powerful back row with captain Simon Easterby and Vernon Cooper. Lou Reed and Dominic Day form a young second row partnership but the front row can call on the experience of Iestyn Thomas and Deacon Manu, alongside young hooker Ken Owens.

Rhys Priestland has shaken off a knock to start at ten and he's a very handy place-kicker on his day so Leinster will need to be on their guard. He partners former Osprey Martin Roberts. Regan King is a quality player who's hurt Leinster several times in the past and he forms an exciting midfield partnership with young tyro Jon Davies. Morgan Stoddart, Darren Daniel and Matthew Jacobs make up a pacy back three.

For Leinster there are a number of interesting selections. Perhaps the most interesting is the senior debut of academy scrum-half Paul O'Donohue who comes in for Chris Whitaker. O'Donohue has long been marked as one to watch since winning the under-20 Grand Slam with Ireland two years ago. He's a cheeky, abrasive figure and it will be interesting to see how he makes the step up.

In fact, it's all change in the Leinster backline as only Shane Horgan retains the same jersey from the last game against Edinburgh. Felipe Contepomi moves from centre to out-half and in turn Isa Nacewa moves from out-half to the left wing. There is a new centre partnership in Gordon D'Arcy and Fergus McFadden and Girvan Dempsey is back at full-back.

There are a further four changes in the pack with Rocky Elsom starting at number eight for the first time in Leinster colours and Cameron Jowitt taking his number six jersey. Sean O'Brien is unfortunately out due to the knee injury he picked up in the Ireland 'A' match last week. Shane Jennings completes the back row and captains the team for the first time this season. In the second row Malcolm O'Kelly replaces Devin Toner and in the front row Brian Blaney gets a rare start ahead of Bernard Jackman.

With two unfamiliar teams it could be a pretty unstructured match. However Leinster should hopefully have enough quality in their ranks to secure a vital away win.

Team Lineups
  Scarlets  Leinster Rugby
Teams Morgan Stoddart
15 Girvan Dempsey
Darren Daniel
14 Shane Horgan
Regan King
13 Fergus McFadden
Jon Davies
12 Gordon D'Arcy
Matthew Jacobs
11 Isa Nacewa
Rhys Priestland
10 Felipe Contepomi
Martin Roberts
9 Paul O'Donohue
Iestyn Thomas
1 Cian Healy
Ken Owens
2 Brian Blaney
Deacon Manu
3 Stan Wright
Lou Reed
4 Trevor Hogan
Dominic Day
5 Malcolm O'Kelly
Vernon Cooper
6 Cameron Jowitt
Simon Easterby (C)
7 Shane Jennings (C)
David Lyons
8 Rocky Elsom
Replacements Phil John
16Bernard Jackman
Mahonri Schwalger
17Ronan McCormack
Josh Turnbull
18Devin Toner
Rob McCusker
19Stephen Keogh
Gavin Cattle
20Simon Keogh
Gavin Evans
21Jonathan Sexton
Ceiron Thomas
22Gary Brown
Not Considered
due to Injury

  Leo Cullen
CJ van der Linde
Sean O' Brien
Chris Keane
Officials Referee: Andy Macpherson (SRU)
Assistant Referees: Matthew Alpin (WRU), Ken Bowen (WRU)
TMO: Tony Rowlands (WRU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2009-02-25