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Leinster Rugby vs Scarlets

In their last Pro12 match before the Champions Cup starts next week, Leinster take on league leaders the Scarlets at the RDS tomorrow evening.  The Scarlets were undoubtedly the winners of the World Cup in terms of the Pro12, racking up six wins from six.  It wasn't like they were unaffected by the World Cup as seven of their players were over there and they had their fair share of injuries too.  But coach Wayne Pivac has managed his resources really well to maintain a consistency of performance to grind out results when needed but also showing some of the flair rugby the Scarlets are renown for. An example of this would be Phil John's first try last week against the Dragons which is well worth checking out on YouTube as it featured a remarkable number of offloads in the build-up.

Speaking of offloads, it was nice to see Leinster back in that business last week too. The offloads didn't always come off but it was nice to see players looking to make them and they played a big part in the tries for Jack McGrath and Jack Conan. Despite the four try bonus point win, Leinster will know they'll need a big performance improvement for tomorrow night. After a bright start, things got extremely scrappy and a better team than Treviso would have punished them. But with international players being assimilated into back into the squad, things were bound to be a little disjointed and overall there were more positives than negatives.

Coach Leo Cullen has made a very interesting selection for this week with an entirely different starting fifteen from last Sunday. As expected all the remaining World Cup players that didn't feature last week come in to start. So Rob Kearney and Zane Kirchner come into the back three, Ian Madigan and Isaac Boss start at half-back and Mike Ross, Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip come into the pack. Other World Cup players like Cian Healy and Devin Toner move up to start after benching last week.

However the rest of the team is quiet interesting as Cullen has opted against fielding as strong a team as possible to give the "first XV" team a run before Europe starts next week. Instead he's chosen some youngsters and squad players to come in. So James Tracy and Cian Kelleher are given their first Leinster starts at senior level at hooker and left wing respectively. After impressing on the wing in earlier rounds Garry Ringrose is given his first start in his preferred position of outside centre, alongside Noel Reid who was impressive off the bench last week. Tom Denton and Dominic Ryan fill out the pack and Leinster fans eager to see Johnny Sexton back in the RDS will have to wait until he's sprung from a strong bench that also features Jack McGrath, Martin Moore, Hayden Triggs and Ben Te'o.

It could be something of a risky strategy for Cullen both in terms of tomorrow's match and potentially having his first-choice team a little under-cooked when they play Wasps next week. However there could be massive benefits in terms of morale for the extended squad as they see they're not just automatically shunted aside once the top internationals return.

The Scarlets have named a team showing six changes from last week. There are two changes in the front row as Rob Evans and Emyr Phillips come in to start. The rest of the pack is unchanged. There are four changes in the backs though and a new half-back partnership in Dan Jones and Gareth Davies. Scrum-half Davies was relatively unknown before the World Cup, but he performed superbly after replacing the injured Rhys Webb and scored five tries. Gareth Owen and Michael Tagicakibau also come into the three-quarter line. It's a decent team but Leinster will be glad not to be facing Samson Lee, DTH van der Merwe and Regan King who are rested this week.

The Scarlets will be eager to win to hold onto top spot but Leinster will be determined not to lose three games in a row to them after being well beaten on their last two visits to Llanelli. The rain forecast may prevent this being as open a game as these teams normally produce when they play each other but Leinster should have enough experience to get them home.

by Jim O'Connor, © 2015-11-05