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Newport Gwent Dragons vs Leinster Rugby
Rodney Parade, Friday 16 May 2009, - 17:30

Television: Live - Setanta Ireland

For the second season running Leinster conclude their Magners League campaign in Rodney Parade against the Dragons. Last season's match was played the week after Leinster had lifted the Magners League trophy. It was a really good, free-flowing match played in a fun atmosphere. This season though, it very much serves as the appetizer to the main course next week in Edinburgh.

To that end, Michael Cheika has decided not to risk any of the players who started last weekend in the seven-try romp against the Scarlets. He has that luxury but his counterpart over in Leicester, Richard Cockerill, won't be resting anyone. This is because Leicester face a tough London Irish side in the Guinness Premiership final.

So who's in the better position? Leinster will certainly have the less fatigued team next week, as Leicester will be playing their fourth knockout cup game in three weeks. On the other hand, in recent years we've seen teams like Wasps (battle-hardened through constant competitive matches) emerge victorious. I guess we won't know until around seven o'clock next Saturday evening.

For the Dragons it's been another fairly disappointing year as they face finishing in the bottom three again. Llanelli's win over Cardiff during the week extinguished any last hopes of automatic qualification for Europe and they now face a tense play-off with the third placed Italian team. That said, the Dragons always give teams a good match on their own patch and Leinster will do well to remember the five tries they scored against them in the final game last season.

With the fifteen front-liners rested, Michael Cheika has named a pretty unfamiliar looking line-up with several academy players given a chance to show what they can do at this level. Cheika still has the luxury of naming a top-class back three in Girvan Dempsey, Rob Kearney and Simon Keogh. Kearney is back after four weeks out with the mumps and he'll be looking for a big performance to push his claims for a start next week. He'll have a bit of family support close by as his younger brother David is named on the bench for the first time. The selection of Keogh on the wing may raise a few eyebrows as he's been the reserve scrum-half in the big games recently and could have benefitted from a full game there.

Instead Chris Keane is picked at scrum-half, meaning Paul O'Donohue must be content with a place on the bench despite impressing for Clontarf last weekend in the AIL final. Keane partners academy player Ian McKinley, who impressed for Ireland in the recent under-20s Six Nations. Another academy player, Kyle Tonetti, partners Fergus McFadden in the centre. McFadden at least has a few games under his belt at this level and will be the leader of the midfield trio. He'll more than likely handle the place-kicking too, but there's another fine kicker in the bench in the shape of Ian Madigan - yet another academy player who'll be hoping to make his senior debut.

The pack is a lot more experienced looking, although there are further academy players on the bench in prop Jamie Hagan and open-side Paul Ryan. Ronnie McCormack, John Fogarty and Stephen Knoop make up an experienced front row. Trevor Hogan and Devin Toner form the second row, both effectively auditioning for the bench spot in the final next week.

In the back row, Stephen Keogh captains the team from number eight, with Sean O'Brien at number seven and Kevin McLaughlin makes his first start of the season at blindside. On paper it's a decent looking pack, but it's similar to the one that started against Edinburgh three weeks ago and played so poorly. So quite a few squad players will feel they have a point to prove.

Dragons coach Paul Turner is obviously hoping for a strong finish at home and has named a strong team. Rhodri Gomer-Davies and Phil Dollman are the centres and they both gave Leinster a torrid time last season. Wayne Evans and Jason Tovey are two young half-backs who has impressed this season and there's experience and pace on the wing in the shape of Gareth Wyatt and Richard Fussell. There's plenty of experience and international quality in the pack too in the shape of Adam Black, Rhys Thomas, Luke Charteris and former All-Black Tom Willis, who captains the side.

Essentially it's a Leinster 'A' side and they'll be up against it certainly. But hopefully it'll be a chance for the Leinster young lads to get a taste of the big time with up to six players looking to make their senior debuts. This alone should make it worth watching and who knows, maybe they could nip a win to confirm second place in the table.

Team Lineups

Newport Gwent Dragons

Leinster Rugby
Teams Martyn Thomas
15 Girvan Dempsey
Gareth Wyatt
14 Simon Keogh
Rhodri Gomer Davies
13 Fergus McFadden
Phil Dollman
12 Kyle Tonetti
Richard Fussell
11 Rob Kearney
Jason Tovey
10 Ian McKinley
Wayne Evans
9 Chris Keane

Adam Black
1 Ronan McCormack
Tom Willis (C)
2 John Fogarty
Rhys Thomes
3 Stephen Knoop
Andrew Hall
4 Trevor Hogan
Luke Charteris
5 Devin Toner
Dan Lydiate
6 Kevin McLaughlin
Lewis Evans
7 Sean O'Brien
Craig Hill
8 Stephen Keogh (C)

Replacements Steve Jones
16 Brian Blaney
Nigel Hall
17 Jamie Hagan
Huw Gustafson
18 Cameron Jowitt
Grant Webb
19 Paul Ryan
Aled Brew
20 Paul O'Donohue
James Arlidge
21 Ian Madigan
Alex Walker
22 David Kearney
Not considered
due to injury
    C.J. Van der Linde (Toe - Out for Season)
Felipe Contepomi (Knee - Out for Season)
Officials Referee: Graham Knox (SRU)
Assistant Referees: Hugh Watkins (WRU), David Jones (WRU)
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (WRU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2009-05-15