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Leinster Rugby vs Newport Gwent Dragons
RDS Showground,
Saturday 12th September 2009, 19:00
Television: Live Setanta Sports 1

Last week's opening game against the Scarlets will be filed under "Ones that got away". Going into the game, defeat was not considered an impossibility by any means but the way they lost was quite surprising. We've seen Leinster start seasons slowly before and struggle to get any pattern into their game, but Leinster actually played very well in the first half. The pack was dominating, Jonny Sexton was kicking beautifully and the backline was working well. After half an hour they led 16-7 and were facing thirteen men, due to the Scarlets indiscipline.

Perhaps those two yellow cards knocked them off their stride and they thought things were going to be too easy, but the fact remains they never troubled the scoreboard again. In the second half they let the Scarlets back into the game. Even at the end, when a drop-kick would have won the game, there seemed to be no strategy to get into field position to give Sexton a chance. Like I said, one that got away.

So Leinster take on the Dragons tomorrow pretty much having to win, because the next three fixtures coming up are pretty tough (Ospreys and Edinburgh away followed by Munster at home). Even with the new play-off system taking some of the pressure off getting early results, they don't want to give themselves a mountain to climb either.

In contrast to Leinster, the Dragons got off to a fine start last weekend, beating Ulster comprehensively 23-6. They improved as a team last season, becoming more dogged and hard to beat, even if this wasn't shown up in an improvement in their final league position. They lost quite a few players during the summer but have recruited cleverly in bringing in experienced Welsh internationals Gavin Thomas and Robert Sidoli, plus All Black scrum half Danny Lee from Waikato. International winger Aled Brew has also returned for his third spell with the club and Scottish prop Ali McKenzie was also signed up.

Lee is still not fit enough to start for the Dragons yet so Wayne Evans continues his half-back pairing with kiwi James Arlidge. The other four new signings all start though, although influential captain Tom Willis is out for a few weeks so Steve Jones starts at hooker with McKenzie and Nigel Hall propping either side of him. Luke Charteris partners Sidoli in the second row and captains the team in Willis's absence. Thomas starts on the flank with Dan Lydiate and Grant Webb starts at number eight in place of Joe Bearman.

Their backline is largely the same as last weekend with Martyn Thomas coming in for Jason Tovey at full-back the only change. Brew remains on the wing and he and Richard Fussell are an unheralded but quite prolific pair of finishers. Tom Riley and Ashley Smith make up an inexperienced but exciting midfield.

Leinster have made a number of changes to the team that started last week. There are three changes in the pack as Mike Ross gets his first competitive start for Leinster in place of Stan Wright, who drops to the bench. With Bernard Jackman still injured, John Fogarty starts again at hooker but he'll be looking for an improved showing in the lineout. Cian Healy, who was excellent against the Scarlets, completes the front row.

Devin Toner replaces Malcolm O'Kelly in the second row and Nathan Hines should make his Leinster debut from the bench at some stage. In the backrow, Kevin McLaughlin continues at six after a fine ball-carrying display last weekend. Sean O'Brien replaces Stephen Keogh at number eight and Shane Jennings completes the backrow.

In the backline, there is only one change but it's quite surprising in that David Kearney, younger brother of Rob, starts on the wing in place of Isa Nacewa. Nacewa switches to full-back in place of Girvan Dempsey who suffered a nasty head injury when bravely diving on a loose ball last weekend. Kearney got a brief taste of first team action last season, but this will be his first start and he'll be busting a gut to show what he can do.

The subs bench is a strong one. Eoin Reddan, who wasn't named in the original playing squad, is named there and he will be hoping to get on to make his Leinster debut. Gordon D'Arcy is there too, back after his extended Lions break. Expect him to see some action in the second half.

It's an exciting line-up with plenty of pace and a nice mixture of youth and experience. That being said, the Dragons won't just roll over and die and Leinster will have to scrap for a win, but they should have enough to get there.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Newport Gwent Dragons
Teams Isa Nacewa 15 Martyn Thomas
Shane Horgan 14 Aled Brew
Fergus McFadden
13 Tom Riley
Shaun Berne
12 Ashley Smith
David Kearney
11 Richard Fussell
Jonathan Sexton
10 James Arlidge
Chris Keane 9 Wayne Evans

Cian Healy 1 Ali McKenzie
John Fogarty
2 Steve Jones
Mike Ross
3 Nigel Hall
Leo Cullen (C)
4 Robert Sodoli
Devin Toner
5 Luke Charteris (C)
Kevin McLaughlin
6 Dan Lydiate
Shane Jennings 7 Gavin Thomas
Sean O'Brien
8 Grant Webb

Replacements Jason Harris-Wright
16 Duane Goodfield
Stan Wright
17 Hugh Gustafson
Nathan Hines
18 Gethin Robinson
Stephen Keogh
19 Adam Jones
Eoin Reddan
20 James Harris
Gordon D'Arcy
21 Jason Tovey
Simon Keogh
22 Alex Walker
Not considered
due to injury
Eoin O'Malley
CJ van der Linde
Trevor Hogan
Bernard Jackman
Girvan Dempsey
Match Officials Referee: Graham Knox (SRU)
Assistant Referees: David Wilkinson (IRFU), Jonathan Peake (IRFU)
4th Official: John Montayne (ARLB)
5th Oficial: Nigel Correll (ARLB)
TMO: Tony Redmond (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2009-09-11