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Scarlets vs Leinster Rugby
Guinness Pro14, Conference B, Round 17
Parc Y Scarlets, Llanelli,
Friday, 9th March 2018, 19:35

TV: Live on Sky Sports Action

So after Storm Emma wiped out all the Pro14 games outside of South Africa last weekend, it's hopefully second time lucky as Leinster take on Scarlets for the second time in three weeks.

It will suit the Scarlets more to be played this weekend as Leinster would have likely been bolstered by a couple of Ireland squad members. The Scarlets will also be boosted by the confidence from their last two performances. They got a decent losing bonus point in the RDS (while denying Leinster a four-try one) and then hammered Ulster at home with a four-try bonus point of their own. This meant the Scarlets stayed just three points behind Leinster and can overtake them again with a win tomorrow.

Since that meeting in the RDS Leinster sent a very young team out to effectively play a training match at home to the Kings but this will be a much sterner test.

Of course last week, Leinster fans got the news many had feared had been coming for a while when Jamie Heaslip announced his retirement due to a back injury. It's so unfitting that Heaslip's career was finished by injury given he was virtually indestructible for the majority of the twelve full seasons he played for Leinster. In a hugely attritional position where the majority of his peers had regular lengthy injury absences, he seemed to have some magic potion that kept him fit aside from a minor ankle injury around Christmas 2010. For the majority of the professional era it seemed Leinster only had two number eights, Victor Costello and then Heaslip, so much so that it was a good quiz question to name the handful of other players who had played number eight for Leinster in a European match.

Heaslip evolved his game as he grew older from a barnstorming carrier to someone who mastered all aspects of backrow play. He was also a very unselfish player, willing to perform whatever role was best for the team, even if it meant he copped criticism from an ignorant element in the media. He exuded calm leadership in everything he did and it's difficult to remember him losing his cool as he became one of the most decorated players in Irish rugby. For Leinster he amassed 229 caps, an impressive 38 tries and three Heineken Cups and another three Pro14 titles. For Ireland there was 95 caps and 13 tries and three Six Nations Championships, including one Grand Slam. These real and lasting achievements for his province and country should not be mentioned in the same breath as that Lions nonsense.

While he ran out of luck at the end, it was his incredible professionalism and dedication that kept him fit for twelve honour-laden seasons. Leinster and Ireland owe him a great debt of gratitude and hopefully the fans at the RDS will get a chance to say a proper goodbye.

Back to tomorrow's game and for the Scarlets, their hugely influential open-side James Davies has finally been given a deserved first cap for Wales this weekend against Italy. This means Tadgh Beirne will lead the charge at the breakdown this weekend but given the way he terrorized Leinster in the area in the RDS, he won't have any problem with that. Leinster really need to play him a lot smarter and Scott Fardy will need to have a major game. Beirne lines up again at number six in a strong looking team.

For Leinster there is the unexpected return of Sean O'Brien who captains the team from openside with Jack Conan returning from Ireland duty to play number eight. Ross Byrne resumes duties at 10, after Frawley's man of the match performance at outhalf last week, with Frawley dropping to the bench. Nick McCarthy starts at 9 for the second match in succession. The back three is made up of Lowe and Barry Daly either side of Dave Kearney, who starts at full back. The inclusion of both Fardy and Lowe in the team means that Gibson-Park drops out of the 23 completely, with his place on the bench taken by Charlie Rock.

The battle between Fardy and O'Brien and Beirne at the breakdown will be worth the ticket price alone! If they get on top, Leinster can achieve a special win.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Teams Dave Kearney 15 Tom Williams
Barry Daly 14 Ioan Nicholas
Rory O'Loughlin 13 Paul Asquith
Noel Reid 12 Steff Hughes (C)
James Lowe 11 Ryan Conbeer
Ross Byrne 10 Dan Jones
Nick McCarthy 9 Jonathan Evans

Ed Byrne 1 Phil Price
Bryan Byrne 2 Ryan Elias
Michael Bent 3 Werner Kruger
Ross Molony 4 Steve Cummins
Scott Fardy
5 David Bulbring
Josh Murphy 6 Tadhg Beirne
Sean O'Brien (C)
7 Josh Macleod
Jack Conan
8 Will Boyde

Replacements James Tracy 16 Emyr Phillips
Peter Dooley 17 Rhys Fawcett
Adam Coyle 18 Simon Gardiner
Mick Kearney 19 Josh Helps
Max Deegan
Lewis Rawlins
Charlie Rock 21 Declan Smith
Ciaran Frawley 22 Ioan Hughes
Adam Byrne 23 Tom Varndell

Not Considered
due to Injury
Tom Daly,
Josh van der Flier,
Robbie Henshaw,
Rhys Ruddock,
Caelan Doris,
Cathal Marsh,
Luke McGrath,
Will Connors

Jonathan Davies,
Jake Ball,
Tom Price,
Tom Prydie,
Johnny McNicholl

by Jim O'Connor, © 2018-03-08