Despite missing some of their biggest names through unavailability and injury, Leinster have been able to forge 10 points clear at the top of the RaboDirect PRO12. They can take a step closer to a home semi-final berth by completing a season’s double over the Scarlets.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, February 17
LEINSTER (1st) v SCARLETS (7th), the RDS, 7.35pm (live TG4)
Team News: The Leinster team to face the Scarlets in Friday night’s RaboDirect PRO12 clash at the RDS, which incorporates the province’s annual ‘Ladies Night’ with proceeds going to Action Breast Cancer, has been named.
Sean Cronin, David Kearney, Fergus McFadden and Eoin Reddan return to the Leinster starting line-up after their involvement in Ireland’s last Six Nations game against Wales just under a fortnight ago.
The quartet are named in a squad which also includes Dominic Ryan, who is listed amongst the replacements after a three-and-a-half month absence through injury.
Kevin McLaughlin captains the team for the second time and he is named in an all-Ireland back row alongside Shane Jennings and the returning Rhys Ruddock, who starts at number 8.
Damian Browne again partners Devin Toner in the second row, while Jack McGrath makes his 15th appearance in a front row which includes Cronin and Jamie Hagan.
In the back-line Eoin O’Malley partners McFadden at centre, with scrum half Reddan linking up at half-back with Ian Madigan, who passed the half century points mark for the province last week when he scored his seventh try in 15 games.
Heinke van der Merwe is in line to make his 50th appearance for the province should he come on as a replacement. The South African prop has been named on a bench which includes Isaac Boss and Richardt Strauss.
Ticket sales for Friday’s game have passed the 16,200 mark. They are on sale from the Leinster Rugby Store (Donnybrook) and Spar (Donnybrook) as well as Ticketmaster outlets nationwide.
Meanwhile, centre Gareth Maule will lead a Scarlets team which sees six changes to the side that faced Glasgow Warriors last weekend.
Liam Williams and Stephen Jones come in at wing and out-half respectively after returning to training this week from Wales’ Six Nations preparations with Adam Warren and Viliame Iongi providing cover on the bench alongside scrum half Liam Davies.
Wales international Scott Williams returns to partner captain Maule in the centre fresh from his cameo appearance at the Millennium Stadium against Scotland.
Prop Rhodri Jones, who has been released from the Welsh squad for the weekend, replaces the injured Iestyn Thomas at loosehead with Deacon Manu returning from injury on the tighthead side of the scrum.
Phil John and Peter Edwards provide front row cover on the bench alongside former Llanelli RFC player Craig Hawkins.
Kieran Murphy gets the nod at number 8 with the Scarlets’ 206th international Ben Morgan providing cover on the bench as one of 15 players who have been released by England for the weekend’s fixtures.
LEINSTER: Isa Nacewa; David Kearney, Eoin O’Malley, Fergus McFadden, Fionn Carr; Ian Madigan, Eoin Reddan; Jack McGrath, Sean Cronin, Jamie Hagan, Damian Browne, Devin Toner, Kevin McLaughlin (capt), Shane Jennings, Rhys Ruddock.
Replacements: Richardt Strauss, Heinke van der Merwe, Nathan White, Leo Auva’a, Dominic Ryan, Isaac Boss, Noel Reid, Brendan Macken.
SCARLETS: Dan Newton; Liam Williams, Gareth Maule (capt), Scott Williams, Andy Fenby; Stephen Jones, Gareth Davies; Rhodri Jones, Emyr Phillips, Deacon Manu, Sione Timani, Dominic Day, Josh Turnbull, Johnathan Edwards, Kieran Murphy.
Replacements: Craig Hawkins, Phil John, Peter Edwards, Damian Welch, Ben Morgan, Liam Davies, Adam Warren, Viliame Iongi.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: David Wilkinson, Stuart Gaffikin (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Kevin Beggs (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Leinster to win: 1/10; Draw: 25/1; Scarlets to win: 6/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Joe Schmidt (Leinster) – “This time of the year is very disjointed; both in terms of player availability and scheduling. We are pleased to welcome back a few of our internationals this week though their training time with us has been limited.
“Having said that, the quality they bring will hopefully help us to keep some of the momentum from last week’s Treviso second half.
“The Scarlets have proven that they can win on the road which makes them dangerous opponents, even though they will also be without some of their international players.
“They play a direct and attacking style of rugby with a lot of speed and movement in their game. Nigel Davies has the team playing in a really positive manner after a tough start to the season.
“They now sit just outside the semi-final spots – further motivation for them to come to the RDS looking to add a further four points to get closer to play-off contention.
“Of course there’s another important dimension to Friday’s game with Leinster Rugby looking to support the Action Breast Cancer charity.
“It’s a great opportunity to contribute something to a good cause while, at the same time, encouraging ladies to get along and enjoy the game but also the various frills offered on ‘Ladies Night’.
“It’s great to hear that ticket sales have been strong once more for this week’s game so hopefully, with a brief hiatus in the Six Nations, we can welcome another big and, as always, vocal crowd to the RDS.”
Nigel Davies (Scarlets) – “We’re going to the RDS with every intent to win the game and having the opportunity to welcome back a few fresh faces will give us a boost.
“We know we have a lot of work to do from here on in. We’ve dropped off the standard a little bit and we’ve been disappointed in the last two performances against Sale and Glasgow.
“We’ve been very hard on ourselves this week but in saying that we are competitive in every aspect in the majority of our games and we just need to ensure that we get back to where we know we can be now on Friday evening.”
Top Scorers – 2011/12 RaboDirect PRO12: Leinster – Points: Isa Nacewa 105; Tries: Ian Madigan 6; Scarlets – Points: Dan Newton 58; Tries: Rhys Thomas 4
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, May 8, 2009 – Leinster 45 Scarlets 8, the RDS
Saturday, September 5, 2009 – Scarlets 18 Leinster 16, Parc y Scarlets
Saturday, February 20, 2010 – Leinster 27 Scarlets 14, the RDS
Friday, December 3, 2010 – Scarlets 17 Leinster 17, Parc y Scarlets
Friday, March 4, 2011 – Leinster 26 Scarlets 15, the RDS
Saturday, September 24, 2011 – Scarlets 10 Leinster 15, Parc y Scarlets
– There seems to be no stopping the relentless Leinster, who top the RaboDirect PRO12 standings, and have now tallied up 11 successive victories in all competitions
– Only one Welsh region has won on Leinster soil since 2005, the Scarlets themselves at the RDS in October 2007
– The Scarlets have slipped to successive defeats to Sale in the LV= Cup and to Glasgow in the RaboDirect PRO12
– The Welshmen have won just once on the road in the PRO12 this season, triumphinh 10-6 at the Newport Gwent Dragons on December 30
– Leinster are unbeaten in their last six encounters with the Scarlets in all competitions, since the Welsh region’s last win in the series (18-16) at Parc y Scarlets in September 2009