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Scarlets vs Leinster Rugby
Guinness Pro12 Round 17
Parc y Scarlets,
Saturday, 7th March 2015, 17:15

Television: Sky Sports 1

The period during the Six Nations is a strange time for the Pro12. Obviously it gets less attention than normal, particularly in weekends when there are direct clashes with Six Nations games. However it can also be a very valuable time in that teams with good squad depth can take advantage and rack up a lot of wins. Since the Italians teams entered the league back in 2010, there has been four matches played during the Six Nations timespan. Generally Leinster have done well in this period and in the last two seasons they've won four from four. But this season will be their worst return from this period in terms of wins, regardless of what happens tomorrow.

A loss at home to the Dragons and a tepid win against Zebre was followed by a draw away to the Ospreys last week. Anyone unfortunate enough to either watch or play in that mind-numbingly dull game will want to wipe it from their memory. At least there should be a bit more entertainment in tomorrow's game against the Scarlets, who generally play a decent brand of rugby and also generally have a pretty generous defence.

You could forgive the Scarlets for being sick of the sight of Irish teams at the moment. By dint of a quirk of the fixture list, this will be the fourth time in four weeks that they've faced Irish teams. In another quirk, their record for the three games exactly mirrors Leinster's with a bonus-point win, a draw and a losing bonus point defeat. That defeat came last week away to Ulster and it was a blow in their campaign to finish ahead of Connacht in sixth place and secure qualification for the Rugby Champions Cup next season.

In this season's Champions Cup the Scarlets acquitted themselves quite respectably beating both Ulster and Leicester at home and playing well away to Toulon. However they were never really in contention to qualify and now the league is their only focus.

The Scarlets have lost their last six matches against Leinster, but will feel confident they can really challenge Leinster in this match. Former All Black Regan King, in his second spell with the team, has been on sparkling form lately and he forms a very strong partnership with Welsh international Scott Williams. Another Kiwi Hadleigh Parkes forms a back three with pacy youngsters Jordan Williams and Harry Robinson. Steven Shingler and Aled Davies form a useful halfback pairing.

Hooker Ken Owens captains the side from the front row with the seemingly ageless Phil John and Peter Edwards either side of him. George Earle and Johan Snyman are in the second row with Lewis Rawlins, James Davies and Scottish international John Barclay making up the back row.

Normally at this time of the season Leinster are forced to name teams with a lot of inexperienced players and squad men to make up for the missing internationals. Yet throughout this Six Nations, Matt O'Connor has been able to name some very experienced sides with plenty of internationals which makes the lacklustre performances all the more galling. Once again O'Connor names a very strong looking team with twelve internationals starting and another five on the bench.

Cian Healy makes his first start for Leinster since September in a bid to force his way into Ireland's starting line-up for another match in Wales in a week's time. He's joined by the rest of Ireland's reserve front row Sean Cronin and Marty Moore. Mike McCarthy is also back from Ireland duty to partner Kane Douglas in the second row. Jack Conan was a late withdrawal from the side last week but he's fit to start at eight this week so Rhys Ruddock skippers the team from his more usual position of blind side with Dominic Ryan switching to the open side. In the backs, the only changes are the return of Luke Fitzgerald and Eoin Reddan in place of Dave Kearney and Isaac Boss who drop to the bench.

With a team this strong Leinster have no excuses for not going over there and winning well.

If they don't serious questions have to be asked of this coaching team's ability to get the best out of the talent available.

by Jim O'Connor, © 2015-03-07

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