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Leinster Rugby vs Border Reivers
Donnybrook
Saturday, 05th May 2007, 19:30

Referee: Hugh Watkins (WRU)
Sub Referee: Ger English (IRFU)
Touch Judge: Peter Roche (IRFU)

Time to say goodbye.  This Saturday's match against the Borders will be the last at Donnybrook in its' present state.  There have been some great days there for Leinster, especially in the professional age.  There were the wins over Leicester in '97 and '99.  There was the defeat of Stade Francais in 2000 in front of a crowd of only three thousand because the kick-off was put at 5.30 to accommodate the Branch Christmas party!  There was also the 40-10 thumping of the mighty Toulouse in 2001.  There were sad days as well such as the defeat to Llanelli in 1999, which saw them miss out on qualification from the group.  Two years later, a 34-all draw against Edinburgh effectively saw them miss out on qualification again.  However, for all the good and the bad nights, the place never lost it's dilapidated charm.

From 2003 onwards the demand for tickets saw Leinster move the Heineken Cup pool games to Landsdowne Road and the RDS.  But it was rather fitting that, due to the closure of Lansdowne, Leinster's final pool game this season against Edinburgh was played at Donnybrook.  The crammed conditions on the terraces showed how much Leinster had outgrown the place and hopefully the crowds will continue to grow in the new home in the RDS.

However the farewell to Donnybrook is only a side issue to the main event, which is the race for the Magner's league.  Unfortunately, last Friday's defeat to the Ospreys means that Leinster's fate is no longer in their own hands.  They now have to win their last two games and hope that the Ospreys slip up on at least one of their last three games away from home.

It's also a farewell of sorts for the Borders tonight, but unfortunately it's a lot sadder.  This is their final away game before the team is disbanded at the end of the season.  Borders have had a troubled and controversial history.  They were initially formed back in 1996 as the "Border Reivers" to compete in the Heineken Cup.  However, after only one season they were merged with Edinburgh, causing outrage in the Borders region, the traditional heartland of Scottish rugby.  They were reformed in 2002 simply as the Borders, but quickly established themselves as the Celtic League's whipping boys.  Due to the team's lack of success and local hostility to the SRFU, they struggled to generate crowds.  So, it came as little surprise then in March, when the SRFU announced that the Borders would be disbanded.  The decision caused huge anger in the Borders area and they ironically enough got some of their biggest crowd of the seasons in recent games.  You might wonder if the people who turned up to protest had supported the team in the first place, then maybe it could have survived but perhaps it's not that simple.

In any case with all the uncertainty, it's no surprise that Borders are having a typical dismal season, rooted to the bottom of the league with only two wins.  So this should be a simple five-pointer for Leinster?  Well it would be, except for the fact that Leinster are one of those two wins.  Back in October, Leinster travelled over in confidence after their fine win over Munster in Lansdowne road.  The Heineken Cup was starting the week after and Leinster were heavy favourites.  Maybe it was complacency, but Leinster were dreadful and Borders were delirious after earning a deserved win.  If Leinster lose this league by four points or less, that night will haunt them forever.

So Leinster won't be lacking in motivation and have named a strong team.  In the pack Bernard Jackman regains the number two jersey after a barn-storming second half last week.  In the backs Guy Easterby replaces Chris Whitaker and there are injury doubts over Denis Hickie and Shane Horgan.  Luke Fitzgerald and Kieran Lewis will fill in if they don't make it.  The match marks the final home games of Easterby, Will Green and Reggie Corrigan.  Reggie is of course a Leinster legend and he recently broke Shane Byrne's appearance record.  But the contributions of Will and Guy shouldn't be underestimated either.  Though both came to Leinster late in their career, they both impressed with their professionalism and their dedication to the Leinster cause.  Like Reggie, they were two of the game's gentlemen and all three will be missed by the Leinster faithful.

Borders are missing their most high-profile player, scrum-half Chris Cusiter.  Rob Chrystie plays in his place and he partner's Steve Jones.  The versatile Calum McRae captains the side from the centre and he's a reliable kicker who did Leinster a lot of damage back in October.  The Border's pack has quite a number of internationals in Gavin Kerr, Steve Scott, Bruce Douglas, Stuart Grimes and Kelly Brown so they're not to be under-estimated.

A lot will depend on the attitude of the Borders team.  You could excuse them for not caring, but equally they've nothing to lose so they could just give it a lash. However if Leinster are properly motivated they should have enough to give Donnybrook the farewell it deserves.

ALLEZ LES BLEUS!

Teams
Leinster Rugby   Border Reivers
Girvan Dempsey 15 Stuart Moffat
Rob Kearney 14 Dougie Flockhart
Shane Horgan / Kieran Lewis 13 Garry Law
Gordon D'Arcy 12 Calum MacRae
Denis Hickie / Luke Fitzgerald 11 Nick De Luca
Felipe Contepomi (C) 10 Steve Jones
Guy Easterby 9 Rob Chrystie
 
Reggie Corrigan 1 Gavin Kerr
Bernard Jackman 2 Steve Scott
Will Green 3 Bruce Douglas
Trevor Hogan 4 Stuart Grimes
Malcolm O'Kelly 5 Opeta Palepoi
Stephen Keogh 6 Scott Gray
Keith Gleeson 7 Andy Miller
Jamie Heaslip 8 Kelly Brown
 
Brian Blaney 16 Sean Crombie
Stanley Wright / Cian Healy 17 Ed Kalman
Owen Finegan 18 Craig Hamilton
Cameron Jowitt / Sean O'Brien 19 John Dalziel
Chris Whitaker 20 Brendan McKerchar
Christian Warner 21 Gregor Townsend
Luke Fitzgerald / Kieran Lewis 22 Bryan Rennie

by Jim O'Connor, © 2007-05-04

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