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Leinster Rugby vs Scarlets
Guinness Pro12 Round 2
RDS Showground,
Saturday, 13th September 2014, 14:40

Television: Live - Sky Sports 1

It was back to normal for Leinster last week as they lost their opening day fixture. Last season, they broke a tradition stretching back years that Leinster must lose on the road the first day out with a very entertaining win over the Scarlets. This raised expectations for a season of enterprising rugby that was rarely borne out. So last week was a return to tradition with a rubbish performance that there can only be improvement from (hopefully).

Amazingly Leinster could have snatched an unlikely win last week, though it wouldn't have been deserved. They were simply blown off the park in the first half by Glasgow's pace, power and skill and were frankly lucky to be only 19-3 down at half-time. Through a combination of Glasgow running out of steam and Leinster showing some character, they somehow managed to put themselves in a winning position only to lose with the last kick of the game. That said, they probably would have taken a losing bonus point away to Glasgow before the game.

They will look for an improvement this week against the Scarlets, who had a typical shoot-out against Ulster in the first week in a crazy 32-all draw. After a tediously bitter internal war in Welsh rugby which threatened the Pro12 itself, a peace deal was finally reached last month. The Scarlets came out of it relatively well having managed to retain the services of their star Welsh players like Rhys Priestland, Liam Williams, Ken Owens and Scott Williams through central contracts. They did suffer a blow however when their head coach Simon Easterby left to become Ireland forwards coach but his replacement Wayne Pivac seems to have a decent pedigree having coached Fiji and Auckland in the past.

Pivac has named a team showing four changes to the one that started against Ulster. There is only one change in the pack where Aaron Shingler replaces Rob McCusker at blindside flanker. McCusker makes up a good backrow with Scottish international John Barclay and number eight Rory Pitman. Pitman looked impressive as an old-fashioned ball carrying eight last week against Ulster and could be one to watch. Welsh international Jake Ball and South African Johan Snyman are in the second row and Phil John, Rhodri Jones and skipper Ken Owens make up the front row.

Injuries to Michael Tagicakibau and Regan King mean Gareth Owen and Jordan Williams come into the three-quarter line alongside Harry Robinson and Scott Williams. Despite receiving a red card last week, full back Liam Williams has been cleared to play and the RDS will give him their usual fond welcome. Despite scoring two tries last week Gareth Davies is dropped to allow Rhodri Williams partner Rhys Priestland at half-back. If the pack can get them some decent ball, that's a pretty dangerous looking backline.

For Leinster, the big news is the first appearance of Devin Toner and Jamie Heaslip this season. For Heaslip, this will be his first appearance as Leinster's official team captain, but he's done the job so many times over the last few seasons, it won't faze him at all. Toner was already one of the biggest men in Irish rugby, but he's bulked up further to 127kg over the summer (just a shade under 20 stone) and while his lifters in the lineout mightn't appreciate it, opposition defenders hopefully won't either.

Heaslip and Toner are two of the three changes in the starting pack, the other being Jack McGrath rotating in for Cian Healy at loosehead prop. The three all add much needed ballast to a pack that was fairly mangled at times last week, especially at the breakdown. They'll need to up their dynamism in order to create some decent ball for the backs, who can hopefully improve on their utterly tepid effort last week, when they resembled living statues at times such was their lack of mobility.

In that backline Rob Kearney is fit to make his seasonal return at fullback which means Zane Kirchner moves to the right wing. Ian Madigan starts at centre in place of the injured Noel Reid in the only other change to the starting side. Eoin Reddan is on the bench alongside academy fly-half Steve Crosbie who could make his first senior appearance if called upon.

The Scarlets usually come and throw it around and they'll do so again. Leinster normally beat them up front and they also should do so again.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Teams Rob Kearney 15 Liam Williams
Zane Kirchner 14 Harry Robinson
Brendan Macken 13 Gareth Owen
Ian Madigan 12 Scott Williams
Darragh Fanning 11 Jordan Williams
Jimmy Gopperth 10 Rhys Priestland
Isaac Boss 9 Rhodri Williams

Jack McGrath 1 Phil John
Sean Cronin 2 Ken Owens (C)
Mike Ross 3 Rhodri Jones
Devin Toner
4 Jake Ball
Mike McCarthy 5 Johan Snyman
Dominic Ryan6 Aaron Shingler
Shane Jennings 7 John Barclay
Jamie Heaslip (C)
8 Rory Pitman

Replacements Bryan Byrne 16 Emyr Phillips
Cian Healy 17 Rob Evans
Tadhg Furlong 18 Peter Edwards
Ben Marshall 19 Richard Kelly
Kevin McLaughlin 20
Rob McCusker
Eoin Reddan 21 Aled Davies
Steve Crosbie 22 Steven Shingler
Mick McGrath 23 Gareth Owen

Not Considered
due to Injury
Luke Fitzgerald,
Aaron Dundon,
Jordi Murphy,
Richardt Strauss,
Dave Kearney,
Dan Leavy,
Noel Reid

George Earle,
Aaron Warren,
Jacobie Adriaanse,
Michael Tagicakibau,
Regan King
Officials Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR, 31st competition game),
Assistant Referees: Mark Patton, Jonathan Peak (IRFU),
Citing Commissioner: Peter Ferguson (IRFU),
TMO: Alan Rogan (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2014-09-12