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Scarlets vs Leinster Rugby
Parc y Scarlet, Llanelli,
Friday, 3rd December 2010, 19:05

Television: Live RTE 2/BBC Wales

Despite the arctic weather conditions, Leinster's game against the Scarlets tomorrow evening seems set to go ahead at this point. Despite their current injury problems and the way the weather has disrupted their preparations, Leinster will be desperate to play the match with their crucial Heineken Cup double-header against Clermont coming up next. Joe Schmidt may need to get new rosary beads though as the ones he used last week clearly didn't work. There were more injuries to outside backs as first Brian O'Driscoll fractured his jaw against Argentina and then Andrew Conway suffered a neck injury in the defeat to the Ospreys. Thankfully neither of the injuries are too serious and both players should be back within a month but it does leave the backline resources looking very stretched.

That defeat to the Ospreys ended Leinster's six match winning run, but there was a lot of positives from the match. Leinster played all the rugby and scored two fine tries, but they were defeated by David Wilkinson, who only seemed to referee one side at the breakdown. However, Ian Madigan had his best game yet for Leinster and Conway was going very well until his unfortunate injury. Fergus McFadden had a very strong game too and his form is timely considering he will probably be asked to start his first Heineken Cup match next weekend. After playing in Wales on Sunday, it's a very short turnaround to another away day in Llanelli though.

The Scarlets are currently in second place in the table, only two points off leaders Munster. From the way their season started this would seem surprising, as they lost their first game away to Treviso and then needed a late-late try to beat Connacht in their second match. However, their form has improved massively since then. Having played them four times last season, Leinster fans will have noticed all the young talent coming through their ranks. They were callow but the potential was there and this season they seem to be maturing nicely and the improved results have followed.

In all competitions this season they've won nine games and lost only four. Two weeks ago, they ran Munster to within a point in Musgrave Park and they're the top try-scorers in the league with 23. In the Heineken Cup they had a marvellous win over Perpignan in a wonderfully entertaining match before being brought back down to earth with a heavy defeat away to Leicester. However, they've now won five out of their last six fixtures and will come into this match with great confidence.

They've named a strong team, though most of their returning internationals are kept in reserve on the bench. Experienced former Australian international David Lyons leads the team from number eight and he forms a strong back row with Josh Turnbull and Jonathan Edwards. Edwards made a big impression when he first came on the scene, but then lost his way for a couple of seasons. However he's back now and he's bulked up considerably and looks a real threat with the ball in hand, scoring three tries in the last two games. With Lou Reed injured, Damian Welch partners Dominic Day in the second row. Ken Owens is a very mobile hooker who scored one of the best tries seen at the RDS last season so he'll need to be watched carefully. Peter Edwards and the experienced Phil John are the props.

There's a young half-back pairing in Tavis Knoyle and Rhys Priestland, who's been scoring points for fun this season. After being injured for most of the last two seasons Regan King has been fit this term and it's no coincidence that the form of the team has improved in his presence. He's a massive influence in both attack and defence and he partners Gareth Maule in the centre. In the back three Welsh international Morgan Stoddart has been playing very well on the right wing this season, and 17 stone Nigerian Joe Ajuwa starts on the other wing. Another promising youngster, Dan Newton completes the team at full-back. They've a very strong bench with Stephen Jones, Matthew Rees and Fijian captain Deacon Manu sure to see some action.

Leinster have named a strong side with ten changes (two positional) from the team that started against the Ospreys. Eoin Reddan, Jonny Sexton, Gordon D'Arcy, Sean O'Brien and Devin Toner all return from international duty and they all come straight into the team. D'Arcy's return at inside centre means Fergus McFadden is moved to left wing in place of Conway. It is the first time he's ever started on the wing and this is significant with the Clermont game in mind. Reddan and Sexton start at half-back in place of Ian Madigan and Isaac Boss who both drop out of the match squad.

In the front row Richardt Strauss and Mike Ross return in place of Jason Harris-Wright and Clint Newland. Toner partners Leo Cullen in the second row as Ed O'Donoghue drops out. Sean O'Brien, in particular, will be raring to go after a largely inactive November and he plays at number eight with Rhys Ruddock at six and Dominic Ryan moving over to start at openside for this first time this season. Nathan Hines, Shane Jennings and Shaun Berne offer massive experience from the bench.

As both Sexton and D'Arcy played for Ireland last Sunday, it wasn't expected that they'd be available to Leinster so soon, so it's a nice surprise that they are. It certainly gives the team a more rounded look about it and might just be enough to give them the edge and earn a vital win.

Team Lineups
Leinster Rugby
Teams Dan Newton
15 Isa Nacewa
Morgan Stoddart
14 Shane Horgan
Gareth Maule
13 Eoin O'Malley
Regan King 12 Gordon D'Arcy
Joe Ajuwa
11 Fergus McFadden
Rhys Priestland
10 Jonathan Sexton
Tavis Knoyle
9 Eoin Reddan

Phil John
1 Heinke van der Merwe
Ken Owens
2 Richardt Strauss
Peter Edwards
3 Mike Ross
Dominic Day
4 Leo Cullen (C)
Damien Welsh
5 Devin Toner
Josh Turnbull
6 Rhys Ruddock
Jonathan Edwards
7 Dominic Ryan
David Lyons (C)
8 Sean O'Brien

Replacements Matthew Rees
16 Tom Sexton
Rhodri Jones
17 Jack McGrath
Deacon Manu
18 Clint Newland
Rod McCusker
19 Nathan Hines
Ben Morgan
20 Shane Jennings
Martin Roberts
21 Paul O'Donohoe
Stephen Jones
22 Sean Berne
Scott Williams
23 Dave Kearney
Not Considered
due to Injury
Jonathan Davies,
Daffyd Jones,
Lou Reed,
Sean Lamont,
Andy Fenby

Stan Wright,
Kevin McLaughlin,
Luke Fitzgerald,
Rob Kearney,
Brian O'Driscoll,
Andrew Conway,
Brendan Macken,
Paul Ryan
Officials Referee: Neil Paterson (SRU),
Assistant Referees: Colin Kirkhouse, Martyn Lewis (both WRU),
TMO: Hugh Watkins (WRU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2010-12-06