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Leinster Rugby vs Scarlets
Guinness Pro14, Round 15
RDS Arena, Dublin
Saturday, 17th February 2018, 15:15

TV: Live on Sky Sports

Roll up! Roll Up!!

Ladies and gentleman I give you the Pro14 match of the season!!!

The two form teams in Europe this season!!

Both playing some of the best, most entertaining rugby around!

The current Pro14 champions against this year's favourites to win the title!

Enjoy the cream of the Pro14 as they go head to head...oh no wait...it's in the middle of the bloody Six Nations so it's mostly second string selections for both teams!

The Pro14 has always struggled to be taken seriously when compared to the other main European leagues in France and England. They face a less than enthusiastic TV rights market and a dismissive, snearing media for sure. But the enemies within have always been the bunch of dolts who draw up the fixtures list. Because in a season when the Scarlets and Leinster games should be the marquee fixtures of the league, both the matches are being run off on the rest weekends either side of the Ireland - Wales Six Nations match. Instead of fluting around with the gimmicks of adding teams from South Africa and maybe America, the league could do itself a great service by playing these type of marquee fixtures at a time when the full strength teams are available and it's not being overshadowed by the oldest tournament in the game.

In any case, for once the Scarlets are nearly as badly affected by international call-ups as Leinster. The Scarlets were the only Welsh team in the European Champions Cup to qualify for the quarter-finals this season. They did so despite losing their first two games in their pool but they recovered and managed wins over Bath and Toulon playing some truly enthralling rugby. Faced with a lengthy injury list, Warren Gatland did the smart thing and pretty much picked nearly all the Scarlets team to be the base of his Wales team for the first two rounds of the Six Nations. The plan worked too, earning Wales a commanding win against Scotland and a decent losing bonus point defeat away to England.

It's had a bad knock-on effect on the Scarlets though and their weakened team lost away to Benetton last week, a defeat that put Leinster top of the Conference B table for the first time this season. This was despite Leinster losing themselves last Friday in Edinburgh. For the second time this season they travelled to Scotland on a Friday night and completed dominated the opposition up front, only to lose by committing multiple errors to gift the home team soft tries. At least this time they left with two bonus points, but it was a crime to waste the platform the forwards provided with some truly woeful back-play and awful discipline.

So both teams are looking to bounce back from disappointing away defeats and the Scarlets have named a team with just two changes from last week with Steve Cummins and Josh Macleod replacing Lewis Rawlins and Will Boyde at second row and number eight respectively.

For Leinster they are able to call on two of the players who benched for Ireland last week although surprisingly there is no sign of Joey Carbery, who many had assumed would get some game-time at ten considering how rusty he looked last week. Jordan Larmour is available though and he takes his place in an all new back three alongside Adam Byrne and James Lowe. There is also still no word on how Isa Nacewa is (is he injured, being rested?) so there's an unchanged midfield of Rory O'Loughlin and Noel Reid. Ross Byrne retains his place at ten but Luke McGrath comes in to start at scrum-half and also captain the side.

Ed Byrne and Sean Cronin come in to start alongside Michael Bent in the front row and Ross Molony and Scott Fardy (who was immense last week) start again in the second row. Jordi Murphy comes into the back row at openside to win his 100th Leinster cap and make up a competitive unit with Josh Murphy and Max Deegan.

The Scarlets were deserved champions last season and they've kept that form going, but Leinster will still be smarting from the manner of the defeat to them in the semi-final in the RDS last May. The big thing in that game was how they got bullied at the breakdown by the likes of Tadhg Beirne and James Davies and they will need to be far more ruthless there tomorrow. If they can win that battle they should have enough firepower out wide to win.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Teams Jordan Larmour 15 Johnny McNicholl
Adam Byrne 14 Tom Prydie
Rory O'Loughlin 13 Paul Asquith
Noel Reid 12 Steff Hughes (C)
James Lowe 11 Ioan Nicholas
Ross Byrne 10 Dan Jones
Luke McGrath 9 Jonathan Evans

Ed Byrne 1 Dylan Evans
Sean Cronin 2 Ryan Elias
Michael Bent 3 Werner Kruger
Ross Molony 4 Steve Cummins
Scott Fardy 5 David Bulbring
Josh Murphy 6 Tadhg Beirne
Jordi Murphy 7 James Davies
Max Deegan 8 Josh Macleod

Replacements Richardt Strauss 16 Emyr Phillips
Peter Dooley 17 Phil Price
Oisin Heffernan 18 Simon Gardiner
Ian Nagle 19 Lewis Rawlins
Will Connors 20
Will Boyde
Nick McCarthy 21 Declan Smith
Ciaran Frawley 22 Corey Baldwin
Barry Daly 23 Tom Williams

Not Considered
due to Injury
Tom Daly,
Josh van der Flier,
Robbie Henshaw,
Rhys Ruddock,
Caelan Doris,
Jamie Heaslip,
Sean O'Brien,
Garry Ringrose,
James Tracy,
Cathal Marsh

Jonathan Davies,
Jake Ball,
Tom Price
Officials Referee: John Lacey (IRFU),
Assistant Referees: Frank Murphy (IRFU), Jonathan Peak (IRFU),
TMO: Olly Hodges (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2018-02-22