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Leinster Rugby vs Newport Gwent Dragons
RDS Showground
Saturday, 29th November 2008, 17:30

Television: Live - Setanta Ireland, Setanta Sports 2
Season Ticket: Magners League Four - Picture of Brendan Mullen

Irish rugby fans, stung by the sheer dreariness of the Irish international team's autumn series, will doubtless be relieved to get back to supporting their provinces this weekend. League leaders Munster have a tough trip away to the Scarlets, while Connacht and Ulster face off against one another. Leinster face the Dragons at home in a bid to restart a Magners League campaign that has stalled badly. Their form in Europe has been near perfect, with ten points and ten tries from two games. The contrast with the recent Magners league form makes for pretty stark reading though with only two points and no tries in the last three games.

Even after the thumping win over Wasps, Leinster took a strong team to Glasgow but produced a weak, passionless, error-strewn performance and deservedly lost. The league isn't yet gone, as it's worth remembering that Leinster had a similarly poor start last season. However it was nearly at this point last season that they went on a ten-game winning run and if they want to realistically challenge for the title this season, they'll probably need to do the same again.

They're slightly unfortunate to be facing the Dragons this week as they're the Welsh team least affected by the Wales-Australia international tomorrow, losing only lock Luke Charteris to the national team. The Dragons come into the match on the back of some good form. They won their last two Magners league games, at home to Edinburgh and away to Ulster. They've also played well in Europe beating Glasgow at home and only losing narrowly away to Bath.

In the off-season, they invested in some Kiwi experience with the arrival of James Arlidge, Hoani Macdonald, Grant Webb and former All-Black hooker Tom Willis. Willis came straight in as captain and has brought a typically hard edge to the team. He forms a strong front row with Gethin Robinson and Adam Black, a prop with a try-scoring record against Leinster that most wings would envy. Macdonald partners Andrew Hall in the second row and Webb forms a powerful backrow with Joe Bearman and Lewis Evans.

Arlidge, a Japanese International, partners talented youngster Wayne Evans at half-back. It's an all-Antipodean midfield with experienced Aussies Rory Sidey and Marc Stcherbina in the centre. Full back Phillip Dollman is another talented youngster and he caused Leinster a lot of problems in the final game of last season. Experienced wings Gareth Wyatt and Richard Fussell complete a strong side.

For Leinster the big news is the return of prodigal son David Holwell who was such a big hit in his one season with Leinster back in 2004-2005. With Felipe Contepomi and Isa Nacewa still out injured he's been signed primarily as cover for Jonny Sexton. Holwell duly takes his place on the bench tomorrow but doubtless Sexton will be under pressure to produce a big performance to secure a first Heineken Cup start next week against Castres.

Even with all the injury problems and Luke Fitzgerald, Rob Kearney and Jamie Heaslip rested, Leinster have still named a very strong team for tomorrow. Simon Keogh and Fergus McFadden have both been rewarded for their recent good form for the 'A' team with starting spots alongside Shane Horgan and Brian O'Driscoll in the three-quarter line. Girvan Dempsey retains the full-back slot and Chris Whitaker captains the team from scrum-half.

In the backrow Stephen Keogh and Sean O'Brien come in for Heaslip and the injured Shane Jennings respectively. Rocky Elsom completes the backrow and in the second row Malcolm O'Kelly partners Devin Toner who's excellent form was recently recognised with the player of the month award. There appears to be an injury doubt over CJ van der Linde so he's bracketed on the bench with Jamie Hagan. Stan Wright continues on the tight-side in CJ's place and Cian Healy gets another start at loosehead. Bernard Jackman makes a welcome return from injury to start at hooker.

So in truth, both sides are a mixture of youth and experience and you can see the Dragons providing tougher opposition than they did last May in the RDS. However Leinster have enough class to hopefully gain a comfortable win.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Newport Gwent Dragons
Teams Girvan Dempsey 15 Phillip Dollman
Shane Horgan
14 Gareth Wyatt
Brian O'Driscoll 13 Rory Sidey
Fergus McFadden
12 Marc Stcherbina
Simon Keogh
11 Richard Fussell
Jonathan Sexton
10 James Arlidge
Chris Whitaker (C)
9 Wayne Evans

Cian Healy
1 Adam Black
Bernard Jackman 2 Tom Willis (C)
Stan Wright 3 Gethin Robinson
Devin Toner
4 Hoani Macdonald
Malcolm O'Kelly
5 Andrew Hall
Rocky Elsom
6 Joe Bearman
Sean O'Brien
7 Lewis Evans
Stephen Keogh
8 Grant Webb

Replacements Brian Blaney
16 Steve Jones
CJ van der Linde / Jamie Hagan
17 Jamie Corsi
Trevor Hogan
18 Jamie Ringer
Cameron Jowitt
19 Danny Lydiate
Chris Keane
20 Ashley Smith
David Holwell
21 Shaun Connor
Gary Brown
22 Rob Lewis

Not considered
due to injury
Felipe Contepomi (hand)
Leo Cullen
Gordon D'Arcy (arm)
Shane Jennings
Isa Nacewa (arm)


Referee: Andy Macpherson (SRU)
Assistant Referees: Michael Black (IRFU), Richard Kerr (IRFU)
4th Official: Peter Dennehy (ARLB)
5th Official: Danny Wallace (ARLB)
TMO: Peter Ferguson (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2008-12-02