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Leinster Rugby vs Newport Gwent Dragons
RDS Showground, Dublin
Friday, 19 November 2010, 19:05

Television: Live: RTE 2

With the sorry state of the national team at the moment, Leinster fans will be glad to get back to the RDS tomorrow night as the Magners League resumes after a three-week break. Leinster face the Dragons looking to extend their winning run to six games and continue their march up the table. In their last match, they beat Edinburgh to successfully complete their 'perfect October' with five wins from five games. It was far from pretty but when you considered the relative strength of the two teams, no one was complaining (unless you were a hysterical, comically ill-informed media pundit of course!)

Sadly, since that match Leinster's squad has reduced in number by two as both Ronan McCormack and John Fogarty announced their retirements, both enforced by injury. 'Ronnie' McCormack took the long road to playing for his home province having played for both Connacht and Ulster first. He finally came to Leinster in 2005 and having ousted Reggie Corrigan for his place, looked set for a long run at loosehead prop. However, neck and shoulder injuries intervened (and eventually forced his retirement) and he never quite got back in as a regular starter again. But Ronnie always did his best as a squad man and never let Leinster down when called upon. He was there for the big Heineken Cup days such as beating Toulouse in the Quarter-final in 2006, beating Munster in Croke Park and beating Leicester in the final in Murrayfield. He can be proud of the part he played in these great days for Leinster.

John Fogarty was only at Leinster since 2008, but it's a measure of the impact he made in that short time that news of his retirement was greeted with such sadness. Like Ronnie, 'Fogs' played for two other provinces before coming to Leinster, his home province Munster and Connacht. Initially signed as back-up to Bernard Jackman, he actually overtook him last season to become Leinster's starting hooker. He was playing the best rugby of his career and earned an overdue Ireland cap on the summer tour. However, unbeknownst to fans, all this time he was suffering the effects of repeated concussions, which he revealed in a shockingly frank Sunday Independent interview.

Faced with that level of suffering, his decision to retire was inevitable and the only option for his long-term health. That interview plus testimony from Jackman in his autobiography about his own problems with concussion will hopefully force the issue out into the open and make rugby's administrators and players take the problem more seriously. Both Ronnie and Fogs were extremely popular members of the squad who always had time for a chat with fans. Here's wishing both of them a happy and healthy future. It would be nice if Leinster arranged an appearance from them at half-time tomorrow evening so the fans can show their appreciation.

The Dragons will be hoping that with their Irish internationals missing, Leinster will be vulnerable. Unusually though, they're actually affected by international withdrawals themselves, as Aled Brew, Dan Lydiate and Toby Faletau are required by Wales to play Fiji. Will Harries has been released from the national squad though to take his place on the wing and he's a major danger-man for them. Tom Cheesman moves back into the centre where he partners Ashley Smith and in Wayne Evans and Jason Tovey they have a young but dangerous halfback pairing.

In the pack, hooker and captain Tom Willis is back and he's the heartbeat of the team. In the second row, Scott Morgan and Robert Sidoli are both former internationals and Gavin Thomas is a massively experienced presence at open-side flank. After putting in some very impressive performances last term, the Dragons' form hasn't been great this season. However in their last Magners League game, they beat the Ospreys at home and they'll be hopeful of using this as a springboard to reboot their season.

Leinster have named a strong team with six changes from the team that started against Edinburgh. At half-back the experienced pair of Isaac Boss and Shaun Berne come in for Paul O'Donohue and Ian Madigan, who both drop to the bench. The only other change in the backs sees Dave Kearney come in for Andrew Conway on the left wing. There are a further three changes in the pack. Trevor Hogan makes a rare start in the second row, replacing Nathan Hines who's on international duty with Scotland. Despite Ireland's persistent problems in the scrums, Mike Ross has still not been given a chance by Ireland this weekend. However, because he's been away all week, he has to take a place on the bench and new signing Clint Newland makes his first Leinster start at tighthead prop. The last change is Rhys Ruddock getting a run at blindside flanker with Dominic Ryan dropping to the bench.

It's a strong Leinster line-up and they should have too much for this Dragons team, but it will still be a tight, hard-won battle.

by Jim O'Connor, © 2010-11-18