After the high of last weekend’s Heineken Cup semi-final victory, Leinster are back to their bread and butter of the Magners League as they look to close out the campaign with two final wins. The Scarlets scored an incredible 52-23 win the last time they visited the RDS and Michael Cheika’s men will be keen to reverse that.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Friday, May 8
LEINSTER (3rd) v SCARLETS (8th), The RDS, 7.45pm (live Setanta Sports Ireland/BBC Wales)
Team News: The Leinster team to face the Scarlets in Friday night’s Magners League tussle at the RDS has been named, with Jonathan Sexton and Sean O’Brien coming in as the only two changes to the side that beat Munster in last weekend’s European semi-final.
Sexton and O’Brien start at out-half and blindside flanker respectively for the visit of the Scarlets for Leinster’s final home Magners League game of the season.
Sexton partners Chris Whitaker at half-back, with O’Brien coming into a strong pack which includes Ireland internationals Bernard Jackman, Leo Cullen, Malcolm O’Kelly, Shane Jennings and Jamie Heaslip.
Over 12,500 tickets have now been sold for the game, with tickets currently available from Ticketmaster outlets nationwide, the Leinster Rugby Store and the Spar shop in Donnybrook.
Meanwhile, the Scarlets’ two 2009 Lions are due to start the region’s game at Heineken Cup finalists Leinster on Friday.
Hooker Matthew Rees and out-half Stephen Jones have both been named by head coach Nigel Davies in his starting line-up. They both came on as replacements in the away match against Munster on April 25.
Also back for Magners League action is fit-again centre Gavin Evans. Rob Higgitt starts on the bench.
Stephen Jones captains the team in place of former Ireland and Lions flanker Simon Easterby who is recovering from knee surgery.
LEINSTER: Isa Nacewa; Shane Horgan, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald; Jonathan Sexton, Chris Whitaker; Cian Healy, Bernard Jackman, Stan Wright, Leo Cullen (capt), Malcolm O’Kelly, Sean O’Brien, Shane Jennings, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: John Fogarty, Ronan McCormack, Devin Toner, Stephen Keogh, Simon Keogh, Fergus McFadden, Girvan Dempsey.
SCARLETS: Daniel Evans; Mark Jones, Gavin Evans, Jon Davies, Lee Williams; Stephen Jones (capt), Martin Roberts; Iestyn Thomas, Matthew Rees, Phil John, Vernon Cooper, Dominic Day, Josh Turnbull, Johnathan Edwards, David Lyons.
Replacements: Deacon Manu, Ken Owens, Lou Reed, Rob McCusker, Gavin Cattle, Rhys Priestland, Rob Higgitt.
Referee: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: David Wilkinson, Jonathan Peak (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: John Carvill (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Leinster to win: 1/12; Draw: 25/1; Scarlets to win: 11/2
Say What: Michael Cheika (Leinster) – “We gave the players 48 hours off (after last weekend) as it was a pretty physical match for all of the players involved.
“And we have had a lighter week than we would normally have because of the shorter turnaround.
“In the last four years we have only lost four games at home and we still have very strong memories of the worst defeat of those four which was to the Scarlets last year.
“They have such an attacking threat that when they’re on their game, you’ve got to be very aware of that.
“It has focused the mind pretty well because we want to make sure we put in a good performance for two reasons.
“The first is because we want to finish as close to Munster as we can in the league. Secondly, because we want to put a good performance in for our supporters.
“We’re only two games away from the way we played in Edinburgh, which was poor. Even the first half against Glasgow, we’re only a game and a half away from that.
“We’re not kidding ourselves, we know that there will be some troughs in the next three week period, but there are things that we will keep working on internally to keep on improving.
“Sometimes you don’t always get it, but I think that the players’ maturity will get themselves better prepared mentally no matter what the situation is.”
Nigel Davies (Scarlets) – “We can expect a huge challenge at the RDS. Leinster had a fabulous victory last weekend in the Heineken Cup semi-final against Munster.
“It was a smashing game of rugby and they were very impressive indeed. They have a strong forward platform this season which, perhaps, they’ve struggled with in years gone by and they can front up in that area.
“They’ve always had the quality backs who can damage teams. They have a lot of experience and they’ve benefited from a consistency of selection this season.
“It’s a bit bizarre, it being our first of three games in eight days. We started the season with three games in a week and end it the same way – it means that, effectively, a third of our season is sorted out within two weeks.
“It’s not ideal but everybody’s got to face it and deal with it, particularly the teams that have progressed in Europe and in the Anglo-Welsh Cup competition.
“It’s got to be looked at because six games in two weeks isn’t what anybody really wants. However, we’ve focused well this week and our aim is to go and win our final three games.”
Top Scorers: 2008/09 Magners League – Points: Leinster: Felipe Contepomi 161; Scarlets: Stephen Jones 104; Tries: Leinster: Luke Fitzgerald 5; Scarlets: Martin Roberts 5
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, April 14, 2006 – Leinster 30 Scarlets 22, Lansdowne Road
Saturday, September 23, 2006 – Scarlets 33 Leinster 21, Stradey Park
Friday, January 26, 2007 – Leinster 44 Scarlets 34, Donnybrook
Friday, October 5, 2007 – Leinster 23 Scarlets 52, The RDS
Saturday, March 29, 2008 – Scarlets 10 Leinster 24, Stradey Park
Saturday, February 21, 2009 – Scarlets 17 Leinster 31, Parc y Scarlets
– Leinster reached their first ever European final last Saturday and have won three of their last four matches in all competitions
– Leinster’s only defeat at the RDS in their last 21 matches was an 18-0 loss to Munster on September 28 last. They are unbeaten against Welsh opponents this season
– The Scarlets have lost their last three games in the Magners League since a 13-6 home win against Edinburgh on March 8. The Welsh region’s only win on the road since October was a 17-14 success at Connacht in the Magners League on January 9
– Leinster have won three of their last four games against the Scarlets but the Welsh outfit did win 52-23 on their last visit to the RDS on October 5, 2007