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Leinster Rugby vs Dragons
Guinness Pro[12-16]
RDS Arena, Dublin

Friday, 2nd October 2020, 20:15

TV: Live on Eir Sports

Well that was grim.

Normally when a season ends with a massively disappointing defeat, you have the summer to get it out of the system. But two weeks later.... here we are.

Happy new season everybody!

The defeat to Saracens was like watching a car crash in slow motion. Leinster had waited 16 months to play them again but unfortunately seemed to have learned nothing in that period. The Saracens gameplan was to play mainly without the ball and score off Leinster's mistakes. The mistakes came from the first whistle and continued to pile on with knock-ons, poor passes and some awful decisions including trying to run out of their own half into the pulverising Saracens defence.

With things going so badly wrong in the first half, Leinster needed the onfield leadership to go into survival mode and take whatever points they could so that Saracens wouldn't be out of sight. The weak Saracens bench meant that Leinster would have an advantage in the second half. So they needed to batten down the hatches and regroup at half-time. However instead they went for the all or nothing kicks to the corner even when it was clear the maul wasn't working. The Saracens try before half-time was the killer and even though Leinster did indeed have the better of the second half and mounted a comeback, they certainly didn't deserve to win the match as a whole.

Mercifully Racing were able to take advantage of the weak Saracens bench last week and send them into their two year Champions Cup exile without another trophy to add to their list. Their cynical and negative rugby won't be missed. But the defeats against Saracens have bookended an unbeaten run by Leinster and really called into question the value of winning the Pro14 three years running. If the league is so uncompetitive that even Leinster's seconds teams routinely run up 50 point wins, then what use is it really? The bigger question both the Leinster and Ireland team and management must ask is why they seem to fall apart when they can't physically bully a team. It's becoming a pattern now and they have to explore other avenues to winning and work on contingencies on how to handle things when they go wrong.

Is it even still called the Pro14 when we're kicking off the season with just twelve teams competing at the moment? The Southern Kings and Cheetahs have been jettisoned (the Kings were always a mess, but the Cheetahs were a decent outfit at times) and now the big four of the Bulls, Sharks, Stormers and Lions will join the league. Due to Covid-19 they can't travel of course so are due to join sometime in 2021. Quite how you can join a league halfway through is a puzzler but maybe they'll play some derbies for the rest of the year?

Leinster resume against the perennial strugglers the Dragons tomorrow evening. The Dragons have named a decent looking side with some names like Nick Tompkins and Jamie Roberts in the backs and Aaron Wainwright and Ross Moriarty in the pack.

Leinster coach Leo Cullen has made eight personnel changes from the defeat to Saracens. Hugo Keenan and Jordan Larmour swap positions in the back three with James Lowe retained on the left wing. Ciaran Frawley comes in to partner Garry Ringrose in the centre and Jamison Gibson-Park is named at scrum-half alongside Johnny Sexton.

There's a new front row of Ed Byrne, Ronan Kelleher and Michael Bent while Scott Fardy is back alongside James Ryan in the second row. Rhys Ruddock and Josh van der Flier come in on the flanks alongside the retained Jack Conan at number eight.

Leinster will win this game handily tomorrow evening but you wonder how long the lads can keep motivating themselves for these matches. And as this is the first behind closed doors game at the RDS, there will be a pang from supporters that wasn't there for the games at the Aviva. They'll be looking at the spots in the terrace and stands that they would normally occupy. Hopefully we're back there soon.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Teams Hugo Keenan 15 Will Talbot-Davies
Jordan Larmour 14 Jonah Holmes
Garry Ringrose
13 Nick Tompkins
Ciaran Frawley
12 Jamie Roberts
James Lowe 11 Ashton Hewitt
Johnny Sexton (C) 10 Sam Davies
Jamison Gibson-Park 9 Rhodri Williams (C)

Ed Byrne 1 Brok Harris
Ronan Kelleher 2 Elliot Dee
Michael Bent 3 Aaron Jarvis
Scott Fardy 4 Joe Davies
James Ryan 5 Joe Maksymiw
Rhys Ruddock 6 Aaron Wainwright
Josh van der Flier 7 Harrison Keddie
Jack Conan 8 Ross Moriarty

Replacements Sean Cronin 16 Richard Hibbard
Cian Healy 17 Conor Maguire
Andrew Porter 18 Lloyd Fairbrother
Ryan Baird 19 Matthew Screech
Max Deegan 20 Taine Basham
Luke McGrath 21 Tavis Knoyle
Ross Byrne 22 Josh Lewis
Tommy O'Brien 23 Adam Warren

Not Considered
due to Injury
Dan Sheehan,
Dan Leavy,
Vakh Abdaladze,
Conor O'Brien,
Peter Dooley,
Adam Byrne,
Dave Kearney,
Tadhg Furlong

Officials Referee: Andrea Piardi (FIR)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2020-11-09