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Newport-Gwent Dragons vs Leinster
Guinness Pro12 Round 19
Rodney Parade, Newport,

Sunday, 12th April 2015, 16:15

Television: Live - S4C, Highlights 6.15 TG4

Leinster just about managed to beat Bath to reach the semi-finals of the Champions Cup last weekend. After a strong if workmanlike first half, they did their best to lose it in the second but just about hung in there at the end. As predicted Bath's scrum injuries proved much of their undoing and Ian Madigan's unerring boot and more street smarts at the breakdown did the rest. Bath played the better rugby but simply didn't have enough ball and they were perhaps a little naive at times as well.

However it was a strange atmosphere for a quarter-final, which the crowd largely muted for most of the game. There was relief at the end when Leinster held on but also the stark realisation that Leinster have become such a blunt attacking instrument in the last two seasons. It was yet another game with no Leinster tries and the thought of taking on Toulon in the semi-finals with a similar gameplan is frankly a depressing one. Even with Toulon not being in the form they were in earlier in the season, Leinster's current gameplan will be meat and drink to them.

The latest line of defence from the disciples of "He who shall not be blamed" is that this Leinster team are poor in several areas and there is no other choice but to play mundane, ambition-free rugby. Perhaps that's true, but he's still got a squad that provided around half of the back-to-back Six Nations Champions squad so it's not like he's working with nothing. Even if there has been a drop-off in quality there are still genuine questions over his management of the resources available and whether the gameplan he insists on can bring the best out of those resources.

The players themselves have to take some of the blame too. They've allowed their standards to slip and they've begun to sound more like cult members than professional rugby players lately. They talk of a great gameplan which is only failing through their poor execution rather than any flaw in the plan itself. Yet this line doesn't even stand up to even basic analysis.

Their outhalf stands deep in the pocket off nearly every attack, passing the ball way behind the gainline making it extremely easy for the opposition defence to shoot up and close down the space. Any linebreaks that are made, and there are few, have to come from tackle-busting, which is increasingly tough in the modern game rather than creating gaps and mis-matches through attacking space and switching the point of attack. Trying to use a player of Ian Madigan's size to try to bash through defences is just straight out pointless. This is a fundamental flaw yet this continues week after week and nothing is done to change it.

It's far from the only one flaw either, with the kicking game continuing to struggle and the defence becoming increasingly ragged as well. Leinster have missed 82 tackles and conceded nine tries in their last three games. They're missing first-up tackles across the board and a similar effort next week in Marseilles will see them crucified.

This week it's about trying to keep alive Leinster's campaign to make the play-offs for the Pro12. Leinster's disastrous run of results over the Six Nations has led to them being four points behind the Ospreys in fourth place. Leinster have only won half of their 18 league games this season, three less than any of the rest of the top four so their position is an accurate reflection of their season. They need to win all their remaining games and hope for favours from other teams.

Their defeat at home to the Dragons was probably their worst result in the last five seasons and could well end up being what costs them a play-off spot. In fairness the Dragons were well worth their win that day, and they played the smarter and more attractive rugby. They've had their usual tough league season and they're down in ninth place with six wins to their name. However they made it through to the semi-finals of the European Challenge Cup by coming from behind to beat Cardiff last weekend. Though that competition no longer rewards the winners with a place in the top tournament next season, it's still a rare chance at silverware for them.

With their semi-final against Edinburgh next Friday, you may have thought they'd have rested players but they always like taking on Leinster in Rodney Parade and they've named a strong team with only three changes from last week. Jack Dixon comes in to inside centre and the second row sees the inclusion of James Thomas but the big news is the return of Lions number eight Taulupe Faletau.

In contrast Leinster have chosen to rest most of their starters, making twelve changes in all, despite playing two days later than the Dragons. After Matt O'Connor made a huge fuss about not having his internationals available for the Glasgow game two weeks ago, he's now chosen to omit pretty much all of them from the match-day squad. Only Ben Te'o, Jimmy Gopperth and Mike McCarthy remain from last week's starting side. After continually bemoaning the fact that his team doesn't get to play enough together and struggle as a result, he turns down a chance to get them a run out before next week? Maybe an understandable choice if they team were playing well, but when even he admits they aren't, it kind of bizarre.

The Dragons seem to be attempting to keep their feel-good factor going and the thoughts of doing the double over the champions could well be all the motivation they need.

Team Lineups

Newport-Gwent Dragons

Leinster Rugby
Teams Jason Tovey 15 Zane Kirchner
Tom Prydie 14 Dave Kearney
Tyler Morgan 13 Ben Te'o
Jack Dixon 12 Gordon D'Arcy
Hallam Amos 11 Darragh Fanning
Dorian Jones 10 Jimmy Gopperth
Jonathan Evans 9 Eoin Reddan

Phil Price 1 Jack McGrath
T.Rhys Thomas (C) 2 Richardt Strauss
Brok Harris 3 Martin Moore
James Thomas 4 Ben Marshall
Cory Hill 5 Mike McCarthy
Nick Crosswell6 Dominic Ryan
Nic Cudd 7 Shane Jennings (C)
Taulupe Faletau8 Jack Conan

Replacements Rhys Buckley 16 Aaron Dundon
Luke Garrett 17 Michael Bent
Dan Way 18 Tadhg Furlong
Matthew Screech 19 Ross Molony
James Benjamin 20
Jordi Murphy
Luc Jones 21 Luke McGrath
Pat Leach 22 Noel Reid
Geraint Rhys Jones 23 Luke Fitzgerald

Not Considered
due to Injury
Lee Byrne,
Ross Wardle,
Aled Brew

Edward Byrne,
Rhys Ruddock,
Kevin McLaughlin,
Kane Douglas,
Fergus McFadden
Officials Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR 39th competition game),
Assistant Referees: Ben Whitehouse, Sean Brickell (both WRU),
Citing Commissioner: Dennis Jones (WRU),
TMO: Derek Bevan (WRU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2015-04-10