Michael Cheika’s Leinster side will chase their fourth successive win over the Scarlets on Saturday evening as they begin their Magners League run with a trip to West Wales.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Saturday, September 5
SCARLETS v LEINSTER, Parc y Scarlets, 6.30pm (live Setanta Sports Ireland/S4C)
Team News: The Leinster team to face the Scarlets in Saturday’s Magners League opener at Parc y Scarlets has been named.
Australian Shaun Berne, an older brother of former Leinster centre Michael Berne, will make his competitive debut for the province and will partner Fergus McFadden at centre for the trip to Llanelli.
Chris Keane and Jonathan Sexton form the half-back partnership, with Ireland internationals Shane Horgan and Girvan Dempsey starting on the right wing and at full-back respectively and Isa Nacewa continuing on the left wing.
The team will be led once more by Leo Cullen, who is set to make his 118th appearance for Leinster this weekend.
He will partner Leinster’s most-capped player Malcolm O’Kelly who will be lining out for the 167th time.
Kevin McLaughlin starts in a back row unit which includes Shane Jennings and Stephen Keogh.
Recent signing Mike Ross is named on the replacements bench amongst four recent Leinster Academy graduates.
A decision on the replacement hooker will be made closer to kick-off.
Meanwhile, Scarlets boss Nigel Davies has handed starts to international new recruits Sean Lamont, Richie Pugh and Rhys Thomas.
There is also a replacements berth for exciting 19-year-old out-half Dan Newton who impressed in the Welsh side’s two pre-season friendlies against Bath.
Skipper Mark Jones lines up in a strong back division featuring fellow Welsh caps Daniel Evans, Jonathan Davies and Martin Roberts.
The Scarlets pack is a mix of great experience and highly promising youth, with second rows Lou Reed and Dominic Day given the job of quelling the threat of influential Leinster skipper Leo Cullen.
SCARLETS: Daniel Evans; Sean Lamont, Rob Higgitt, Jonathan Davies, Mark Jones (capt); Rhys Priestland, Martin Roberts; Iestyn Thomas, Ken Owens, Rhys Thomas, Lou Reed, Dominic Day, Simon Easterby, Richie Pugh, David Lyons.
Replacements: Phil John, Emyr Phillips, Deacon Manu, Vernon Cooper, Dafydd Jones, Lee Williams, Dan Newton.
LEINSTER: Girvan Dempsey; Shane Horgan, Fergus McFadden, Shaun Berne, Isa Nacewa; Jonathan Sexton, Chris Keane; Cian Healy, John Fogarty, Stan Wright, Leo Cullen (capt), Malcolm O’Kelly, Kevin McLaughlin, Shane Jennings, Stephen Keogh.
Replacements: Bernard Jackman/Jason Harris-Wright, Mike Ross, Devin Toner, Sean O’Brien, Paul O’Donohoe, Simon Keogh, Niall Morris.
Referee: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Jon Mason, Colin Kirkhouse (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Tony Rowlands (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Scarlets to win: evens; Draw: 20/1; Leinster to win: 4/5
Say What: Leo Cullen (Leinster) – “The new additions to the squad are settling in well. Shaun Berne is a very experienced player and is a good leader on the field, with a calm head.
“Mike (Ross) is a very strong guy and has done brilliantly over the last few seasons over in the Guinness Premiership.
“After getting his first Ireland cap earlier in the summer he’ll have aspirations to do well with Leinster and push on into the Ireland reckoning.
“The attitude from all the players over the summer has been good and we’re keen as a group to push on and become more consistent in both the Magners League and Heineken Cup.
“We had a good pre-season camp in the south of France followed by the game against London Irish last weekend so we’ve had a pretty good build-up – but we need to start the Magners League strongly.
“Our form in the earlier rounds last year wasn’t as consistent as we would have liked and it ultimately cost us.
“We’re determined to push on and the Scarlets will be dangerous opponents. They’re a great club with great traditions and we know that we will need to face up to the passion and skill levels that they will bring to the game.
“We were lucky to win both of our games against them last year, but this is a fresh start and we’re expecting another tough test.”
Nigel Davies (Scarlets) – “Apart from not picking our Lions and a couple of longer term injuries, we’re all fit and enjoying a clean bill of health – it’s a good position to be in.
“We’ve been able to run out as two separate teams before this first league match, something that’s been hugely beneficial from a coaching perspective and for the players because they’ll feel that pressure before the Leinster match itself. That’s a luxury we probably didn’t have last year.
“Simon Easterby, David Lyons and Richie Pugh will be in the back row on Saturday. There’s lots of competition here – we’re particularly strong if you look at our second rows and our back row.
“It is going to drive these players on and they know they are going to have to work hard to get their jersey.
“Last year, with the stadium move and injuries, there was a lot pressure on and off the field. The group have been great in the way they have reacted this season and I think we all have put it behind us and are looking forward to this season.
“We are really excited about the fact that we have got such an energised group and they are going to give it their all. I am certain about that.
“We still have a long way to go, we have a lot of youngsters with us, but it has been fantastic how they have reacted to the pre-season and I really do believe that we have been able to put last season behind us.”
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Friday, May 8, 2009 – Leinster 45 Scarlets 8, The RDS
– The Scarlets will be hoping to repeat their start to last season’s Magners League where they defeated an Irish province by winning away from home in Ulster
– The Welshmen concluded their last campaign with back-to-back victories over the Cardiff Blues and Ulster
– Leinster have won just once in round one of the Magners League since 2003 (23-8 at home to Edinburgh in 2007)
– The reigning European champions only lost one of their eight encounters with the Welsh regions in the 2008/09 season (18-9 at the Dragons on May 16 last)
– The Scarlets have lost their last three games against Leinster, whilst the Irish side have been victorious on their last two visits to Llanelli