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Newport Gwent Dragons vs Leinster Rugby
Rodney Parade, Newport
Sunday, 27th March 2011, 14:30

Television: Live RTE 2

With the Six Nations over, it's now all Leinster for the rest of the season with no more interruptions from those pesky men in green. Overall it was a disappointing championship for Ireland but at least they finished with a great win and performance against England. Now attention will switch to the Heineken Cup quarter-final against Leicester in the Aviva stadium which is coming up in two weeks time. However Leinster have to concentrate on the Magners League for now because the race for the top four is getting hot.

Ulster's resurgence over recent times has brought them right back into the mix and their win over the Dragons last Friday brought them up to fourth place, level on points with Leinster. Cardiff are in fifth place, two points behind, but crucially they also have a game in hand. And the Scarlets, in sixth place, still aren't out of contention despite leaving the RDS with no points in the last round.

Leinster's poor start to the Magners League season plus their failure to obtain bonus points on several occasions has removed any wiggle room they might have had. To get into the top four, they'll probably need to win at least four of their five remaining games. To get into the top two and earn a home semi-final, they'll need to win all five remaining games and hope that Munster can win away to the Ospreys.

Next week's trip to Munster will be a huge occasion but this Sunday's trip to Newport is really a must-win game. Leinster's record in Rodney Parade isn't great. Leinster have only won there once in the Magners League and that was a scrappy one-point win back in April '07. Most of the time they've actually been well beaten there. There has been extenuating circumstances in the last three seasons though.

In 2008, the Leinster squad travelled there somewhat the worse for wear after celebrating winning the Magners League the week before. It was more like a tour match in truth and the Dragons won an entertaining match with the teams scoring eight tries between them. In the last two seasons the game in Rodney Parade came before crucial Heineken Cup matches so severely weakened teams were sent over by Michael Cheika mostly made up of young players. Both times they were well beaten.

This time Leinster have no such leeway and they've named a very strong team. Only the five Leinster players who started every game in the Six Nations (Brian O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy, Sean O'Brien, Cian Healy and Mike Ross) aren't involved in the match squad. Shane Horgan makes a welcome return from two months out with injury to take his customary spot on the right wing. Luke Fitzgerald returns after the disappointment of being dropped by Ireland for the England match. He's named on the left wing with Isa Nacewa retained at full back. It was a blow for Luke, but it's easy to forget he's still only 23 years old and is still learning, despite all that he's accomplished in his career already. He still has a long career at the top ahead of him and he'll be itching to bounce back and show everyone what a quality player he really is.

The rest of the backline is unchanged from the Scarlets match with Eoin O'Malley and Fergus McFadden in the centre and Jonny Sexton and Isaac Boss at half-back. The pack is the same as the one that started against the Scarlets and there are further re-enforcements on the bench in the shape of Nathan Hines, Jamie Heaslip and Eoin Reddan.

The Dragons have had their problems this season as they've struggled to maintain the progress they made last year. Things got worse in January when their coach Paul Turner was suspended for "questionable behaviour". Turner then resigned in February and Darren Edwards took over as caretaker coach. It was a sad end to Turner's time with the Dragons because he had got them playing some very good rugby last season.

Since his assistant Edwards took over he's had mixed results. They won their first four games, before drawing the next but they've since lost their last three on the bounce. To be fair, they pushed Ulster hard last week in Ravenhill, only losing to a last minute Ruan Pienaar drop goal.

The Dragons have named a pretty strong team led by their giant second row Luke Charteris. He captains the team in the absence of Kiwi hooker Tom Willis, who's injured. Dan Lydiate is rested after a busy Six Nations but they still name a powerful backrow in Joe Bearman, Lewis Evans and Toby Faletau. Martyn Thomas, Will Harries and Aled Brew make up a quick back three while Jason Tovey and Wayne Evans have developed into a very dependable half-back pairing.

Rodney Parade is an old-school rugby ground and they have a passionate and vocal crowd. Leinster will be favourites on paper but they'll need to be on the top of their game to win there. Once Leinster approach the game with a professional attitude, then they should be able to do it.

Team Lineups


Leinster Rugby
Teams Martyn Thomas
15 Isa Nacewa
Will Harries
14 Shane Horgan
Adam Hughes
13 Eoin O'Malley
Tom Riley
12 Fergus McFadden
Aled Brew
11 Luke Fitzgerald
Jason Tovey
10 Jonathan Sexton
Wayne Evans
9 Isaac Boss

Phil Price
1 Heinke van der Merwe
Lloyd Burns
2 Richardt Strauss
Dan Way
3 Stanley Wright
Luke Charteris (C)
4 Leo Cullen (C)
Adam Jones
5 Devin Toner
Joe Bearman
6 Kevin McLaughlin
Lewis Evans
7 Dominic Ryan
Toby Faletau
8 Rhys Ruddock

Replacements Steve Jones
16 Aaron Dundon
Hugh Gustafson
17 Jack McGrath
Ben Castle
18 Simon Shawe
Adam Brown
19 Nathan Hines
Gavin Thomas
20 Jamie Heaslip
Matthew Pewtner
21 Eoin Reddan
Matthew Jones
22 Ian Madigan
Jon Evans
23 David Kearney

Not Considered
due to Injury

Rob Kearney,
Shaun Berne,
Shane Jennings,
Stephen Keogh,
Andrew Conway
Officials Referee: Andy Macpherson (SRU
Assistant Referees: David Bodilly, Simon Harris (both WRU)
TMO: Tony Rowlands (WRU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2011-03-25