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Leinster Rugby vs Dragons

Guinness Pro12 Round 3
RDS, Saturday 3rd October 2015
Kick-off 2.30
Television: Live – TG4

In this strangely truncated World Cup season, Leinster resume their Pro12 campaign after a three week break since they beat Cardiff. They'll be off again next week before the season kicks in on a normal weekly basis when they travel to the Scarlets in a fortnight. It's always tough to get some consistency into a side at this time of year at the best of times, so it's nearly impossible with such large breaks between games. So far Leo Cullen has had a mixed start to life as Leinster Head Coach. His team were quite poor in their first game away to Edinburgh and they were very fortunate to escape with a losing bonus point. There was more reason for optimism the following week against Cardiff in the RDS.

In the first half Leinster played some really nice rugby, though they didn't quite convert enough of their good play into scores. In the second half the game became a battle and Leinster did what they had to to grind out a win. But it will be that first half, in particular the first twenty five minutes or so, that will give Leinster fans some encouragement. The backs and forwards combined well attacking space and hitting the line at the kind of smart angles we haven't seen for a while. It didn't last that long but while it did, it was nice to watch and gives hope for the future.

Despite this fixture taking place at the same time as the Japan v Samoa World Cup match (thanks to the Pro 12 organisers for that!), Leinster won't be distracted or lacking in motivation. Last season, the Dragons did the double over Leinster for the first time ever. The home defeat in particular was one of the most dire Leinster performances in memory and was doubtlessly one of the contributory factors towards Matt O'Connor's departure.

Since the Cardiff game the sad news was revealed that Kevin McLaughlin has been forced to retire due to persistent concussions. It's a massive shame for a player who had plenty of injury problems at the start and the end of his career. In between though he hit a sweet run of fitness and form that saw his play a massive part in Leinster's most successful ever run picking up Heineken Cup and Pro 12 medals along with nine Ireland caps. At his best Kevin was an old-school number six who went about his business effectively and with little fuss. He was the sort of player you could set your watch to, you knew what you'd get and he rarely failed to deliver. He leaves with warm wishes from the Leinster faithful for his future either in or outside rugby and for his future health. Look after yourself, Kev!

Leinster have been boosted by the return of Rhys Ruddock and Martin Moore, two players who most likely would have been in the Ireland squad, but for ill-timed injuries. Moore starts at tighthead, in the only change to the pack, while Ruddock has to make do with a place on the bench. The only other change to the team that started against Cardiff is Isaac Boss coming in for Luke McGrath at scrum-half.

The Dragons are level on points with Leinster after they took a losing bonus point on the road in their first match away to Connacht and followed it up with a home win against Zebre. They've named a team showing four changes to the team that started against Zebre. Carl Meyer starts at full back so Tom Prydie moves to the wing, while hooker Hugh Gustafson and flankers James Thomas and James Benjamin come in to the pack. They are captained by experienced South African lock Rynard Landman.

Bouyed by their wins last season, the Dragons will play with confidence. But hopefully Leinster will have enough to win and play some more of that nice rugby to send the crowds home happy.

by Jim O'Connor, © 2015-10-02