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Leinster Rugby vs Scarlets
RDS Showground, Dublin
Saturday 19th December 2009, 15:45

Television: Live Sky Sports 3, Highlights RTE2 21:00

After losing their first Heineken Cup match at home to London Irish, Leinster knew they had to win both away games in Brive and Llanelli. They achieved that with some style and played some fantastic rugby along the way. However they now have to back that up with a return to the home form that has made the RDS such a formidable venue in recent years in Europe.

It was noticeable how downbeat the Leinster players and management were after last week's match. The magnificent travelling support was delighted with a bonus point win on the road, but the players bemoaned a poor second half effort. It was perhaps a bit over the top, but it does illustrate the high performance standards the players now set for themselves. It also bodes well for tomorrow's match in that the players seem to be going out to atone for the second half performance rather than basking in the excellence of their first half effort.

In that first half, Leinster scored three magnificent tries and could have easily had three more. Admittedly, the Scarlets defence had an off-day, but when Leinster run at teams with that type of pace and skill, they can make any defence look bad. The angles of attack and support running were fantastic and were a joy to watch. It was all made possible though by the excellent platform that the pack provided.

The front five were excellent with CJ van der Linde having his best game yet in a blue jersey and Nathan Hines showing again why he was such an astute summer signing. The back row was brilliant, both individually and collectively and they, along with Cian Healy, constantly punched holes in the Scarlets defence with smart runs off the ruck from depth. The scrum was on top throughout and the lineout was sharp and varied.

On the back of that performance, the common perception is that Leinster just need to turn up on Saturday for a bonus point win. This is a dangerous way of thinking for fans though. Despite losing last week, the Scarlets are far from dead in the Group. A win will put them back in the hunt and before anyone thinks this is impossible, remember how they went to London Irish and won against the odds. What's more, the Scarlets will be well fired up after taking a hiding at home. Traditionally these mid-group back-to-back fixtures are tighter on the second weekend. Only last season Leinster trashed Castres at home only to lose on the road the following week.

What's more, Leinster haven't actually been scoring that many four-try bonus points in the last while, last week's was their first of the season and there were only six in total last term. It's important that the crowd be patient and let the lads build their win as impatience and anxiety can transmit to the players as we saw in the Cardiff home game in October. In that game the players started going for a bonus point way too early and lost focus, which led to a scrappy, error-strewn performance. If Leinster take the Scarlets on up front again, dominating the set-piece and the breakdown, then they should provide the quick ball needed to test their defence again. A bonus point win could well be attainable then, but only if they do the dirty work first. Unsurprisingly, Michael Cheika has named an unchanged Leinster team and bench for tomorrow's match.

Scarlets coach Nigel Davies has made three changes for tomorrow's match.

The most eye-catching is the selection of Rhys Priestland at full-back. He's made his name as an out-half but has also played several games at full back. His selection might indicate a more conservative kicking gameplan from Davies though. Darren Daniel also comes in on the wing for Lee Williams, who struggled defensively last weekend.

The only other change is in the pack where Jonathan Edwards replaces the injured Richie Pugh at open-side flanker. Edwards scored two tries against Leinster two seasons ago in the RDS. He looked a potential superstar that night but injuries have slowed his progress since then. However he'll be looking to make up for lost time tomorrow.

Last week the Scarlets knew they let their fans down, the one exception being their bulky young centre Jonathan Davies, who scored their try and put in some big hits. They're going to come out firing and it's vital and Leinster extinguish that fire early. If they come out with the right attitude and don't get suckered into complacency, then another good win is well within their grasp.


Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby

Teams Rob Kearney 15 Rhys Priestland
Shane Horgan
14 Darren Daniel
Brian O'Driscoll
13 Sean Lamont
Gordon D'Arcy 12 Jonathan Davies
Isa Nacewa 11 Andy Fenby
Shaun Berne 10 Stephen Jones
Eoin Reddan
9 Martin Roberts

Cian Healy
1 Iestyn Thomas
John Fogarty 2 Ken Owens
CJ van der Linde 3 Deacon Manu
Leo Cullen (C)
4 Lou Reed
Nathan Hines 5 Dominic Day
Kevin McLaughlin 6 Simon Easterby
Sean O'Brien 7 Jonathan Edwards
Jamie Heaslip 8 David Lyons (C)

Replacements Bernard Jackman
16 Phil John
Mike Ross
17 Emyr Phillips
Stan Wright
18 Jamie Corsi
Malcolm O'Kelly 19 Vernon Cooper
Stephen Keogh
Rod McCusker
Paul O'Donohoe
21 Tavis Knoyle
Fergus McFadden
22 Daniel Evans
Girvan Dempsey
23 Gareth Maule

Not Considered
due to Injury
Luke Fitzgerald
Jonathan Sexton

Matthew Rees
Dafydd Jones
Mark Jones
Morgan Stoddart
Regan King
Rhys Thomas
Richie Pugh
Officials Referee: Wayne Barnes (RFU)
Assistant Referees: Roy Maybank (RFU), Kevin Stewart (RFU)
4th Official: Paul Haycock (ARLB)
5th Official: Peter Dennehy (ARLB)
TMO: Ed Morrison

by Jim O'Connor, © 2009-12-18