Play-off chasers Leinster had 21 points to spare over the Newport Gwent Dragons when the sides met in Dublin in November, but a much tighter game is expected at Rodney Parade on Sunday.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Sunday, March 27
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS (7th) v LEINSTER (4th), Rodney Parade, 2.30pm (live RTE 2/S4C)
Team News: The Leinster team to face the Newport Gwent Dragons in Sunday afternoon’s Magners League clash at Rodney Parade has been named.
Shane Horgan returns to the starting line-up after a two month lay-off with a knee injury. He will make his 18th appearance of the season.
The fit-again Ireland winger joins Luke Fitzgerald and Isa Nacewa in the province’s back-three for Sunday’s game.
Eoin O’Malley partners Fergus McFadden at centre, with Isaac Boss linking up at half-back with Jonathan Sexton, one of Ireland’s heroes in the win over England.
Leo Cullen leads the team and starts from the second row alongside Devin Toner, and ex-Gonzaga College duo Kevin McLaughlin and Dominic Ryan join Rhys Ruddock in the back row.
Internationals Jamie Heaslip, Nathan Hines and Eoin Reddan have been selected on a strong replacements bench which features a mix of youth and experience.
Speaking ahead of the trip to Newport, Leinster skills and kicking coach Richie Murphy said that the players are expecting a tough battle with the Welsh regional side.
“A couple of the younger players have done well when they’ve played for the seniors. If you were to ask any of them I think they’d say that they have enjoyed their chances to play,” he said.
“The senior guys that are there are looking after them and helping them through the games. And I think that the young lads are progressing well.
“Rodney Parade is a very difficult place to play. Over the last two years we have shipped reasonably big defeats, so I think this week it will be about us getting ourselves right, being mentally ready for the game and with the league position that we’re in at the moment, it’s a ‘must win’ game for us.”
Meanwhile, Wales lock Luke Charteris will be at the Dragons’ helm once again when they take on Leinster.
Dragons acting head coach Darren Edwards said: “Luke has been doing a fantastic job as our captain. Losing Tom Willis was tough on the team but Luke has done really well in his place.
“He’s stepped up both in his personal performances but also in his leadership. He has been in great form and really leading the side from the front.”
With an unchanged tight five, back rower Danny Lydiate has been rested following his impressive Six Nations campaign but rising star Toby Faletau comes in to start at number 8.
Flanker Gavin Thomas has been given the all-clear to return to playing after the jaw injury he picked up against Sale Sharks last month and will start on the bench.
With Pat Leach out, Tom Riley will start at inside centre and young gun Matthew Pewtner joins returning Wales Under-20 scrum half Jon Evans on the bench.
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS: Martyn Thomas; Will Harries, Adam Hughes, Tom Riley, Aled Brew; Jason Tovey, Wayne Evans; Phil Price, Lloyd Burns, Dan Way, Luke Charteris (capt), Adam Jones, Joe Bearman, Lewis Evans, Toby Faletau.
Replacements: Steve Jones, Hugh Gustafson, Ben Castle, Adam Brown, Gavin Thomas, Matthew Pewtner, Matthew Jones, Jon Evans.
LEINSTER: Isa Nacewa; Shane Horgan, Eoin O’Malley, Fergus McFadden, Luke Fitzgerald; Jonathan Sexton, Isaac Boss; Heinke van der Merwe, Richardt Strauss, Stan Wright, Leo Cullen (capt), Devin Toner, Kevin McLaughlin, Dominic Ryan, Rhys Ruddock.
Replacements: Aaron Dundon, Jack McGrath, Simon Shawe, Nathan Hines, Jamie Heaslip, Eoin Reddan, Ian Madigan, David Kearney.
Referee: Andy Macpherson (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: David Bodilly, Simon Harris (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Tony Rowlands (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Newport Gwent Dragons to win: 6/4; Draw: 20/1; Leinster to win: 8/15
Pre-Match Quotes: Dominic Ryan (Leinster) – “It has been a quiet week and we’ve had a bit of time off our feet, but we’ve been working very hard in terms of our fitness over the last few weeks.
“The Dragons are a very good team and though we actually beat them over here, they’re different at home and you saw it with Ireland at the weekend.
“I made my debut (for Leinster) against the Dragons last season and we were absolutely thumped over there at Rodney Parade, so it’s coming to the business end of the season now and we have to win every game in the Magners League.
“You can’t really afford to slip up, so it’s going to be a big game. In the past there might have been an impression that it was one of the easier games, but our approach is that it’s one of our toughest games.
“It was magical to watch the Ireland game at the weekend and seeing how they beat England and you do take inspiration from that, especially when you see an Irish team bringing that kind of physicality to a game.
“That Irish spirit, which people talk about, it’s always there and has to be drawn on so when we have the internationals back we’ll see the kind of strength that we have.
“At the moment with Jamie (Heaslip) and Seanie (O’Brien) out and Rhys (Ruddock) involved with the Ireland set-up as well, you have three quality internationals there.
“And with Kev (McLaughlin) and Jenno (Shane Jennings) as well, the competition is huge at the moment and you have to fight for your place.”
Darren Edwards (Newport Gwent Dragons) – “Although the result last weekend was not what we were hoping for with five minutes to go, Ravenhill is a tough ground and Ulster are a strong side.
“So, to go there and really test them the way we did shows how well the players took the lessons of the previous week’s trip to Gloucester and upped their game.
“Leinster may still be missing some of their Ireland internationals but that hasn’t stopped them winning over the last few weeks.
“They are a European squad with a great depth of talent so this weekend’s game will be tough. All the boys want now is to get out onto the Rodney Parade field in front of our own fans and perform.”
Top Scorers – 2010/11 Magners League: Newport Gwent Dragons – Points: Jason Tovey 104; Tries: Aled Brew 6; Leinster – Points: Isa Nacewa 142; Tries: Isa Nacewa, Shane Horgan, David Kearney 4 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, May 9, 2008 – Newport Gwent Dragons 31 Leinster 26, Rodney Parade
Saturday, November 29, 2008 – Leinster 29 Newport Gwent Dragons 13, the RDS
Saturday, May 16, 2009 – Newport Gwent Dragons 18 Leinster 9, Rodney Parade
Saturday, September 12, 2009 – Leinster 23 Newport Gwent Dragons 14, the RDS
Sunday, December 6, 2009 – Newport Gwent Dragons 30 Leinster 14, Rodney Parade
Friday, November 19, 2010 – Leinster 27 Newport Gwent Dragons 6, the RDS
– The last seven encounters between the two teams have all been won by the home side on the day, while Leinster’s most recent win at Rodney Parade was a 23-22 triumph in April 2007
– The Newport Gwent Dragons are without a win in their last four matches in all competitions, but all of those matches were played away from home
– At Rodney Parade, the Dragons have won four in-a-row in the Magners League, since the Scarlets defeated them there on September 24
– Leinster’s only loss in their last ten games in all competitions was a 11-3 defeat at the Cardiff Blues in the Magners League on February 19. The Leinstermen have yet to win in Wales this season