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Leinster Rugby vs Newport Gwent Dragons
RDS Showground, Dublin,
Friday, 9th September 2011, 19:35

Television: Live: RTE 2

Well that wasn't what we were expecting!

Leinster find themselves in the unusual position of being bottom of the table looking up at the rest of the Pro 12. Hey, it's only after one game so there's no need for panic but it's still slightly embarrassing for the European Champions. To lose away to the Ospreys is of course no disgrace but it was the manner of the performance that was truly shocking. Leinster were simply blown away in the first half to trail 27-3. They rallied somewhat in the second half to at least deny the Ospreys any more scores.

They seemed to forget all the fundamentals of the game, especially those about the breakdown where they had a scarcely believable 20 turnovers. True they were missing a lot of players but Joe Schmidt had a lot of quality in the team he sent out and he made no excuses afterwards.

Leinster are notoriously slow starters in the league. Since the league expanded to a full home and away format back in 2003 they've actually only won once on the opening day. To be fair, they was one of the few times they were drawn at home. So starting with an away defeat isn't the end of the world but given the nature of the performance, Schmidt will be quite happy that four of the next five games are at home against teams that finished in the bottom half of the table last season.

The Dragons finished seventh in the table last season, which meant they became the Welsh team that lost out on Heineken Cup rugby and will now compete in the Amlin Cup instead. To be fair, seventh place was their highest finish in the table for five years and it was accomplished largely on the back of some fine homes wins late in the season over local rivals Cardiff and the Ospreys. It had been a tough season for them, especially when they lost their coach Paul Turner halfway through the season in controversial circumstances. Darren Edwards came in to replace him and did a pretty solid job and has been given a chance to extend his reign.

As usual the Dragons aren't operating on a huge budget and they've been quiet during the summer on the transfer front with Cardiff's Tom Brown coming in for the departed Joe Bearman the only major move. Last week, they were fairly disappointing in their loss to Munster, especially when they only registered three points in the second half to a Munster side that suffered three yellow cards.

The Dragons make three changes to the team that started last week. Hugo Ellis replaces Tom Brown at number eight, while in the backs Martyn Thomas and Pat Leach come in for Steffan Jones and Ashley Smith respectively. They have international experience in the pack in Tom Willis, Rob Sidoli and Gavin Thomas and in Jason Tovey they have a reliable points scorer. Former Ulster fullback Jamie Smith is named on the bench.

There are three changes to the Leinster team which started last week. Ian Madigan and Cillian Willis come in at half-back for John Cooney and Mat Berquist who both drop to the bench. With Luke Fitzgerald out due to a knee injury, Brendan Macken starts at outside centre with Eoin O'Malley switching to the inside. The pack is unchanged and will obviously relish the chance to right the wrongs of last week. Nathan White, who only arrived from Waikato this week, is bracketed on the bench with Jack O'Connell and young Darren Hudson will look to make his competitive debut after impressing in pre-season.

The Dragons are always an awkward team to beat and with them having more of their regulars available than Leinster they'll fancy their chances of an upset. However in front of their home fans, this Leinster team has enough quality to bounce back and get the win they need.

Finally it was announced last week that Ian McKinley had to retire from the game due to losing the sight in his left eye. Of course it's always sad when a player's career is cut short by injury but this is greatly outweighed by the personal tragedy of a young man losing the sight in one of his eyes. McKinley's Leinster senior career was short but full of promise, especially in the match he played against Treviso last season when he created one try and scored another in a man of the match display. McKinley has accepted the news with remarkable dignity and perspective. He hopes to have a career in coaching and I'm sure all Leinster fans wish his every success in this endeavour.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby

Newport Gwent Dragons
Teams Isa Nacewa
15 Martyn Thomas
Fionn Carr
14 Adam Hughes
Brendan Macken 13 Tom Riley
Eoin O'Malley 12 Pat Leach
David Kearney 11 Mike Poole
Ian Madigan 10 Jason Tovey
Cillian Willis
9 Joe Bedford

Heinke van der Merwe 1 Phil Price
Richardt Strauss
2 Tom Willis
Jamie Hagan
3 Ben Castle
Damian Browne 4 Adam Jones
Devin Toner 5 Rob Sidoli
Kevin McLaughlin 6 Andrew Coombs
Dominic Ryan 7 Gavin Thomas
Rhys Ruddock (C)
8 Hugo Ellis

Replacements Aaron Dundon 16 Rhys Buckley
Jack McGrath 17 Nathan Williams
Jack O'Connell / Nathan White 18 Dan Way
Mark Flanagan 19 Lewis Evans
Leo Auva'a 20 Jevon Groves
John Cooney 21 Wayne Evans
Mat Berquist 22 Steffan Jones
Darren Hudson 23 Jamie Smith

Not Considered
due to Injury
Steven Sykes,
Eamonn Sheridan,
Shane Horgan,
Simon Shawe,
Andrew Conway,
Luke Fitzgerald


Officials Referee: Andy Macpherson (SRU),
Assistant Referees: Michael Black, Richard Kerr (both IRFU),
4th Official: Brian Montayne (Leinster Rugby Referees),
5th Official: Aidan Fogarty (Leinster Rugby Referees),
TMO: Tony Redmond (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2011-09-08

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