Leinster face a short five-day turnaround since their bonus point win away to Zebre, but with a number of Ireland internationals returning for the province they will be confident of defeating the Dragons at their RDS ‘fortress’.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, February 14
LEINSTER (2nd) v NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS (7th), the RDS, 7.45pm (live TG4)
Team News: The Leinster team to face the Newport Gwent Dragons in Friday evening’s RaboDirect PRO12 encounter at the RDS has been named.
Following on from last Sunday’s bonus point victory away to Zebre, head coach Matt O’Connor has mixed things up with a number of additional players now at his disposal having been cleared to play by the Ireland set-up.
Fergus McFadden, Martin Moore, Sean Cronin and Jack McGrath who all saw game-time against Wales start for the province, while Rhys Ruddock, who was part of the extended matchday squad that day, also comes into the fold.
Leinster, who defeated the Dragons 23-19 at Rodney Parade back in November, make seven changes in total to the side that faced the Italians in Parma.
Zane Kirchner, who scored his second try in Leinster colours last weekend, continues at full-back.
Darragh Fanning switches to the left wing to accommodate McFadden, who has now fully recovered from his hand injury and acquitted himself well against Scotland and Wales.
Brendan Macken and Noel Reid are retained in the centre but there is a new pairing at half-back with Eoin Reddan and Ian Madigan taking over from John Cooney and Jimmy Gopperth. Gopperth is named among the replacements.
Captain Leo Cullen and Mike McCarthy are once again selected in the second row but there is a completely new front row with the aforementioned McGrath, Cronin and Moore selected to start having finished out the game so strongly against the Welsh.
In the back row there is one change with Ruddock returning in a straight swap with Kevin McLaughlin. Shane Jennings is again selected at openside flanker with Jordi Murphy continuing at the back of the scrum.
Meanwhile, after the Dragons’ home game against Edinburgh was cancelled last weekend because of a waterlogged pitch, the Welsh region are ready to take the fight to Leinster in Dublin.
Their joint-top try scorer in the league, Hallam Amos, has made the move from wing to full-back from the game against Newcastle in the LV= Cup.
He is joined in the back-three by Matthew Pewtner, who returned from injury last weekend, and Will Harries who moves to the left flank.
The centre pairing is made up of Pat Leach and the experienced Ashley Smith. Jason Tovey gets the nod as out-half and Welsh international Richie Rees takes his place as scrum half.
The selected front row is made up of loosehead prop Owen Evans, Welsh international hooker Rhys Thomas and tighthead prop Nathan Buck.
Young gun Cory Hill and captain Rob Sidoli combine in the engine room, while flankers Lewis Evans and Nic Cudd link up with Fijian international Netani Talei in the back row.
LEINSTER: Zane Kirchner; Fergus McFadden, Brendan Macken, Noel Reid, Darragh Fanning; Ian Madigan, Eoin Reddan; Jack McGrath, Sean Cronin, Martin Moore, Leo Cullen (capt), Mike McCarthy, Rhys Ruddock, Shane Jennings, Jordi Murphy.
Replacements: Aaron Dundon, Michael Bent, Tadhg Furlong, Tom Denton, Dominic Ryan, Isaac Boss, Jimmy Gopperth, Darren Hudson.
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS: Hallam Amos; Matthew Pewtner, Pat Leach, Ashley Smith, Will Harries; Jason Tovey, Richie Rees; Owen Evans, Rhys Thomas, Nathan Buck, Cory Hill, Rob Sidoli (capt), Lewis Evans, Nic Cudd, Netani Talei.
Replacements: Sam Parry, Aaron Coundley, Francisco Chaparro, Matthew Screech, Jevon Groves, Wayne Evans, Steffan Jones, Ross Wardle.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Mark Patton, Barrie O’Connell (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Kevin Beggs (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Leinster to win: 1/25; Draw: 35/1; Newport Gwent Dragons to win: 10/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Matt O’Connor (Leinster) – “We’ve had a lot of guys who have been fortunate to be in the Irish set-up this season, but it is an opportunity for the other guys. It gives them a bit of focus, it also gives them something to concentrate on in relation to not playing.
“They can look at these Test windows really positively and they understand how important it is for the squad to be really successful in this period because as we said last week, it determines whether you are in the top four or not.
“In terms of whether you are home in the semi-final or away in the semi-final, these points are massive for us and the guys understand that responsibility. By and large they look forward to it and take it with both hands.
“Noel (Reid), in particular, has played really well. I didn’t know much about him before arriving at Leinster. In relation to his distribution, and what he provides the rest of the back-line of the team with, he is doing a great job for us.
“It is huge to have blokes who can step in to that job when guys like Gordon D’Arcy are away. Noel has played a lot of rugby for us and played really well.”
Darren Edwards (Newport Gwent Dragons) – “Leinster are a very well-organised team and are currently doing well in the league. So going over there will be difficult for us.
“When we beat Glasgow away I thought that for us was a major stepping stone, we opposed Glasgow’s game on them and actually won that battle. Now we know a formula that does work it’s just about making sure we keep attacking that.
“We were very under-prepared going into Edinburgh because of the weather conditions, but now we’ve had a good training week so we’re better prepared and fresh.
“It’s good to have a break sometimes. This league is pretty relentless for Welsh teams and we didn’t get a break whereas the Irish teams had a few weeks off.
“We’ve got that game in hand now on the Scarlets and if we’d have won last weekend we would have been standing second in the ranking of the Welsh regions.
“And if we manage to do that this season that would be a magnificent achievement. There would be a little mini-battle between the Welsh regions in the league and that would be exciting.
“We want to finish as high as possible and these matches over the next three weeks are really key to that.”
Top Scorers – 2013/14 RaboDirect PRO12: Leinster – Points: Jimmy Gopperth 95; Tries: Noel Reid 3; Newport Gwent Dragons – Points: Jason Tovey 111; Tries: Hallam Amos, Dan Evans, Will Harries 2 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Sunday, March 27, 2011 – Newport Gwent Dragons 16 Leinster 26, Rodney Parade
Friday, September 9, 2011 – Leinster 31 Newport Gwent Dragons 10, the RDS
Saturday, May 5, 2012 – Newport Gwent Dragons 18 Leinster 22, Rodney Parade
Saturday, September 8, 2012 – Leinster 45 Newport Gwent Dragons 25, the RDS
Friday, March 1, 2013 – Newport Gwent Dragons 19 Leinster 26, Rodney Parade
Friday, November 1, 2013 – Newport Gwent Dragons 19 Leinster 23, Rodney Parade
– Leinster are the best side in the RaboDirect PRO12 on current form having tallied 23 league points from their last six matches, while their only defeat in the competition in their last eight encounters came at Murrayfield on December 20
– Leinster’s most recent defeat by a Welsh region came at the Ospreys in November 2012
– The Newport Gwent Dragons’ home game against Edinburgh was postponed last weekend due to inclement weather, while they have won just one of their last four matches in the PRO12
– The Dragons’ only away victory in the league in almost 12 months came on a trip to Glasgow in November
– The Dragons have not beaten an Irish province on their own turf since they visited Ulster in the PRO12 in September 2008
– Leinster have won their last seven fixtures against the Welshmen since the Dragons’ 30-14 victory at Rodney Parade in December 2009, while the men of Gwent have never beaten Leinster in Dublin