We’re back to Pro14 action this weekend with Leinster taking on Dragons for the second time this season, this time at the RDS.
Leinster and Dragons kicked off their season against each other on 2nd September. Despite a spirited start from the home side who are now coached by previous Leinster hooker Bernard Jackman, they succumbed to an opening round 16-39 defeat to Leinster who stole the fire from the Dragons in the second half!
This time around, both teams have had to reshuffle their selections, most notably Leinster who have a large number of players away on international duty. However, given the amazing strength in depth that Leinster has this season, there are still 11 internationals available for selection. Below is the 23 selected:
15. Jordan Larmour
14. Fergus McFadden
13. Rory O’Loughlin
12. Noel Reid
11. Isa Nacewa CAPTAIN
10. Ross Byrne
9. Jamison Gibson-Park
1. Ed Byrne
2. Seán Cronin
3. Michael Bent
4. Ross Molony
5. Scott Fardy
6. Josh Murphy
7. Jordi Murphy
8. Max Deegan
16. Richardt Strauss
17. Peter Dooley
18. Andrew Porter
19. Ian Nagle
20. Jack Conan
21. Nick McCarthy
22. Cathal Marsh
23. Conor O’Brien
The big returnee for Leinster this week is Isa Nacewa who has missed the last few games due to a thigh injury. He is back this weekend to captain the side and is a very welcome sight to see on the team sheet. He will be joined by pacey and reliable backs in McFadden, Reid, O’Loughlin, and Larmour. Larmour has looked very sharp both in attack and defense, he has performed very well in his maiden season with the senior squad. Keep an eye on this guy, I think we might see him bagging a nice try for himself. Larmour will be called upon a lot more in the future and could become one of our next stars, especially now with all of the talk of Carbery needing as much game time at 10 instead of fullback. The door is very much open for Larmour.
Our new signing James Lowe arrived in Dublin a few weeks ago and according to Stuart Lancaster, he is still learning the plays and systems at Leinster so it’s probably a bit too early to get him into a matchday squad. He also mentioned that Lowe has had a very long season with Super Rugby and then Mitre 10 straight after, so he probably needs another week to settle in and prepare himself for his first Leinster cap.
There’s a very potent pack with big guns Cronin, Fardy and Murphy starting. Josh Murphy who got his first cap for Leinster away to Glasgow will also get another chance to impress. Josh Murphy looked solid during his last outing but is far from the finished article, it will be very interesting to see how he goes with Scott Fardy and Jordi Murphy on either side of him.
On the bench, we have some more big guns to unleash into battle in the form of Strauss, Porter, and Jack Conan who, like his name, is a true barbarian for Leinster over the last couple of seasons. His impact will no doubt be huge, Ireland’s loss is certainly Leinster’s gain!
Leinster has a very strong and positive record against Dragons but lets not forget (I certainly don’t) that the Dragons team has been among the the only two sides that have defeated Leinster in the RDS over the last 3 years, the other one being Scarlets in last season’s Pro12 semi final (I also will NEVER forget that one).
They are a very tricky side to overcome as they like to attack early, move the ball around, and allow their backs to control their forward momentum. They have strong forwards and backs that need no encouragement to take advantage of a broken defense. This season has shown that there are no easy wins in the competition and every team has upped their game in terms of competitiveness. Also, remember who’s coaching them, Bernard Jackman is a high quality coach and will have a lot of wisdom to impart on the Welsh side, especially when it comes to his former side and coaches who he is very familiar with playing along side of back in the day.
Where the game will be won
This match will almost certainly be won by who scores the most tries, there will be no squeaky bum time in terms of needing a drop goal or a penalty to win this one. The winning margin in these games (apart from our defeat to Dragons in 2014) have always been over 10 points, so I expect the same again.
Leaking soft tries has been a problem for both teams, and both sides will undoubtedly be looking to fix that area of their game. I would expect a solid defensive outing from both teams for the majority of this game, but whoever gets broken down earliest will start to come undone by the merciless backs available on both sides.
Dragons will be coming to the RDS to exact revenge on Leinster after being beaten on their home patch on their first outing of the season. Make no mistake, they will start very fast and very strong and will test Leinster for at least 40 minutes so don’t expect much daylight on the scoreboard for the boys in blue at half time.
However, I can see no other result than a Leinster win tomorrow evening once the clock enters 80 minutes. The power of our pack, coupled with the experience and strength to come off the bench, will be too much for the travelling side. I think it’ll be a 5 point game going into the second half but once the clock goes past the 50 minute mark, I think we’ll see that second half magic from Leinster who will go on to slay the Dragons once more this season.
Leinster 35 – Dragons 18