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Leinster Rugby vs Newport Gwent Dragons
RDS Showground, Dublin
Saturday, 8th September 2012, 18:15

Television: Live: RTE 2

It's Leinster versus Dragons and as usual it's a top versus bottom in the table clash. However the teams aren't in their normal positions as the Dragons had the biggest win of the opening weekend and stand top of the table. It took Ian Madigan's last minute try to save Leinster from the ignominy of the heaviest defeat of the opening weekend and only Zebre, the team who the Dragons hammered, are below them.

It was a brutally tough day at the office for Leinster as a near full-strength Scarlets team gave team a hiding, scoring seven tries to two. It was certainly a callow enough backline but a pretty strong Leinster pack will have been hurt in the way they were dominated in contact and at the breakdown. There were positives in how the scrum and lineout fared and in the precise kicking of Madigan from the tee. However Leinster still looked like a team in pre-season mode while the Scarlets brought real intensity to their game right from the start. The nature of the defeat will make sure that the whole squad will be looking forward to when Leinster visit Llanelli with their full strength team in the Heineken Cup on October 20th.

However opening day defeats are nothing new for Leinster and last year they suffered a 27-3 defeat to the Ospreys, a margin that would have been far worse if that Welsh team had come out firing in the second half. Then, like now, they followed it up with a home game against the Dragons, which they won 31-10. Joe Schmidt would settle for something similar tomorrow evening.

For the Dragons it was a handy enough start as they comfortably beat a Zebre team who were understandably disorganised playing their first-ever competitive game. It was the positive start they needed after a tough summer where much of the talk has been about their 2.5 million pound debt, largely due to their ground redevelopment. They've seen quite a few departures in their playing staff too. Internationals Luke Charteris and Aled Brew went to France and promising young players Martyn Thomas and Jason Tovey went to Gloucester and Cardiff respectively. They also lost their captain Tom Willis to injury-enforced retirement during last season.

They were able to hold onto their backrow stars Dan Lydiate and Toby Felatau however and both started the match last week. Coach Darren Edwards has rung the changes in the forwards though from that win, admitting he's looking to keep his squad fresh for the derby match against Cardiff next week.

New signings Dan Evans (who bagged two tries last week) and Tom Prydie start in the back three alongside Will Harries. Andy Tuilagi, brother of Manu & Alesana, starts in the centre alongside Pat Leach. Steffan Jones and Jonathan Evans are the half backs. With Dan Lydiate injured, Hywel Stoddart makes his debut alongside Faletau and Jevon Groves who captains the team.

Ian Nimmo and Adam Jones are in the boiler room and Nathan Williams, Sam Parry and Nathan Buck are the front row. Former Munster prop Tim Ryan could make his debut off the bench.

For Leinster the wounds from the Scarlets match weren't just mental. They went into the match with a long injury list and typical of sod's law, it just got longer with Isaac Boss, Dominic Ryan and Aaron Dundon picking up knocks that will rule them out for periods between six to ten weeks. With Richardt Strauss also picking up a knock in that match Sean Cronin has been released by the good grace of the Irish management to start. Leinster's only other fit hooker Tom Sexton sits on the bench.

In all there are six changes to the Leinster team that started last week. John Cooney makes his second start at scrum-half in place of Boss in the only change to the backline. He looked composed when he came on last week and it's important that he maintains that form. 19-year-old Luke McGrath is the scrum-half cover on the bench.

In the pack there's the reassuring return of captain Leo Cullen in the second row where he'll partner new South African signing Quinn Roux, who makes his debut. Ben Marshall gets the nod to replace Ryan at blind-side with Jordi Murphy staying on the bench. Jack McGrath comes into the front row alongside Cronin and Jamie Hagan, the only member of the front five to retain his place from last week. Forward's Coach Jonno Gibbes was pretty abrasive about the lack of physicality of the pack last week, so you'd have to expect a reaction to that.

The strength and depth of the Leinster squad hasn't being tested by injury like this since Gary Ella's season in charge back in 2003/04. However it's important that the young lads front up because Leinster don't want to leave themselves too much to do to make the top four late in the season. It will probably be a scrappy enough game again but hopefully Leinster will have enough about them to dig out a morale-boosting win.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Newport Gwent Dragons
Teams Isa Nacewa 15 Dan Evans
Andrew Conway 14 Will Harries
Brendan Macken 13 Pat Leach
Noel Reid 12 Andy Tuilagi
Fionn Carr 11 Tom Prydie
Ian Madigan 10 Steffan Jones
John Cooney 9 Jonathan Evans

Jack McGrath 1 Nathan Williams
Sean Cronin 2 Sam Parry
Jamie Hagan 3 Nathan Buck
Leo Cullen (C)
4 Ian Nimmo
Quinn Roux 5 Adam Jones
Ben Marshall 6 Hywel Stoddart
Shane Jennings 7 Jevon Groves (C)
Leo Auva'a 8 Toby Faletau

Replacements Tom Sexton 16 Hugh Gustafson
Heinke van der Merwe 17 Aaron Coundley
Martin Moore 18 Tim Ryan
Devin Toner 19 Lewis Evans
Jordi Murphy 20 Tom Brown
Luke McGrath 21 Liam Davies
Colm O'Shea 22 Ashley Smith
Darren Hudson 23 Hallam Amos
Not considered
due to injury
Luke Fitzgerald,
Sean O'Brien,
Eoin O'Malley,
Rhys Ruddock,
David Kearney,
Mark Flanagan,
Conor Gilsenan,
Isaac Boss,
Dominic Ryan,
Aaron Dundon,
David Doyle,
Richardt Strauss
   Joe Bedford,
Adam Hughes,
Tonderai Chavhanga,
Jamie Smith,
Matthew Pewtner,
Dan Watchurst,
Darren Waters,
Rob Sidoli,
Andrew Coombes,
Dan Lydiate,
Mike Poole
Match Officials Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR),
Assistant Referees: Mark Patton, Jonathan Peak (both IRFU),
4th Official: Gary Glennon ((Leinster Rugby Referees),
5th Oficial: David Williams (Leinster Rugby Referees),
TMO: Alan Rogan (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2012-09-07