Despite missing a considerable chunk of their squad due to the RBS 6 Nations, Leinster enjoyed an excellent February with a win in Cardiff and two bonus point victories at home. The Dragons are next up for Joe Schmidt’s play-off chasers.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, March 1
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS (11th) v LEINSTER (3rd), Rodney Parade, 7pm
Team News: The Leinster team to face the Newport Gwent Dragons in Friday night’s RaboDirect PRO12 clash at Rodney Parade has been named.
With a number of players available for selection this week, the Leinster management have made 11 changes in personnel to the starting line-up ahead of the trip to Newport.
Academy prop Jack O’Connell, 22, will make his seventh Leinster appearance – and his first start – in a front row which includes Balbriggan’s Jamie Hagan and Sean Cronin who is one of five Ireland internationals to return to the panel this week.
O’Connell has featured as a replacement in the province’s last three wins over the Cardiff Blues, Benetton Treviso and the Scarlets.
Fergus McFadden partners the fit-again Brendan Macken in the centre, with full-back Luke Fitzgerald included in a a strong back-three alongside Fionn Carr and David Kearney.
Meanwhile, Ian Madigan, who makes his 23rd appearance of the season, links up with Eoin Reddan at half-back.
Shane Jennings leads the team and starts in a rejigged back row which includes Dominic Ryan and sees Rhys Ruddock switch to number 8.
Mark Flanagan, fresh from his seasonal debut last weekend, will feature alongside his cousin Devin Toner in the second row.
Jack McGrath, who has turned in some impressive displays in recent weeks, takes his place on a replacements bench which includes the likes of regular captain Leo Cullen and Eoin O’Malley.
Friday’s match at Rodney Parade is not being televised. There will be live updates via the Leinster Rugby Twitter page – @leinsterrugby.
Meanwhile, the Dragons’ regular back rower Jevon Groves stepped up to the plate by taking on the challenge of second row last weekend as Adam Jones was taken ill.
This will be his second start at lock for the men of Gwent this season, after the positive impact he made against Zebre.
Groves, who is 24 and was born in Pontypridd, made his Dragons debut in 2010 in a local derby match where he came on in the back row.
The region’s head coach Darren Edwards has also put faith in young gun Jack Dixon who will create a new centre pairing alongside Pat Leach. They last played side by side away from home against Bath at the Rec.
The Dragons have also made a change in the front five with Sam Parry stepping in as hooker and Jonathan Evans starts at scrum half.
The regional side’s silent assassin, Nic Cudd who has just signed a new two-year deal, retains his starting berth as he dons his regular number 7 jersey.
“I am playing regularly here and it’s going well for me. There is a good bunch of back row players here, so it keeps the competition going and is good for the team,” said Cudd.
“Leinster are a great team and it’s going to be a very tough game Friday night. We have to step up to the mark really and hopefully we can do that.”
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS: Dan Evans; Adam Hughes, Pat Leach, Jack Dixon, Hallam Amos; Steffan Jones, Jonathan Evans; Ieuan Jones, Nic Cudd, Lewis Evans (capt), Jevon Groves, Ian Nimmo, Nathan Buck, Sam Parry, Phil Price.
Replacements: Hugh Gustafson, Aaron Coundley, Dan Way, Rob Sidoli, Adam Jones, Wayne Evans, Tom Prydie, Will Harries.
LEINSTER: Luke Fitzgerald; David Kearney, Brendan Macken, Fergus McFadden, Fionn Carr; Ian Madigan, Eoin Reddan; Jack O’Connell, Sean Cronin, Jamie Hagan, Mark Flanagan, Devin Toner, Dominic Ryan, Shane Jennings (capt), Rhys Ruddock.
Replacements: Aaron Dundon, Jack McGrath, Michael Bent, Leo Cullen, Jordi Murphy, John Cooney, Andrew Goodman, Eoin O’Malley.
Referee: David Wilkinson (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Leighton Hodges, Sean Brickell (both Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Newport Gwent Dragons to win: 4/1; Draw: 25/1; Leinster to win: 1/6
Pre-Match Quotes: Guy Easterby (Leinster) – “We knew it was going to be a tough encounter (against the Scarlets) and to get a bonus point with the last play of the game was more than we hoped for,” said Easterby.
“We’re delighted to get a five-point haul and keep ourselves in that area of the table. I think it will be a really tough game (against the Dragons this week). I don’t think anyone wins in Newport easily, even if Glasgow got a big win there.
“They’re an extremely proud bunch with very loyal supporters and they will have a point to prove because they’ve said themselves they were disappointed with the Glasgow result.
“And they showed some good resolve against Zebre, coming from 13-3 down to get the win. We expect a really battle and I don’t think the Glasgow result helped us.”
Dan Evans (Newport Gwent Dragons) – “We scored three good tries out in Dublin (when we last met Leinster) and played some nice stuff. We need to show the same belief on Friday and I hope to get plenty of chances to get the ball in my hands.
“Last week wasn’t a running game against Zebre – the conditions were terrible – but we want to spread the ball against Leinster and cause some damage.
“We have gone behind early in our last three games and we cannot afford to make life hard for ourselves against Leinster.
“They are a strong side and we must not give them any opportunities because they punish the smallest mistakes, as they showed against the Scarlets last weekend. We need to show the spirit and belief that got us through against Zebre.”
Top Scorers – 2012/13 RaboDirect PRO12: Newport Gwent Dragons – Points: Tom Prydie 124; Tries: Dan Evans 4; Leinster – Points: Ian Madigan 121; Tries: Ian Madigan 5
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Sunday, December 6, 2009 – Newport Gwent Dragons 30 Leinster 14, Rodney Parade
Friday, November 19, 2010 – Leinster 27 Newport Gwent Dragons 6, the RDS
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
– The Newport Gwent Dragons’ only loss in their last five fixtures in all competitions was 60-3 at home to Glasgow Warriors in their most recent contest at Rodney Parade
– The Dragons have won just three of their last eleven home games in the RaboDirect PRO12
– The men of Gwent’s only victory over an Irish province since September 2011 was 14-3 at home to Connacht on November 23 last
– Leinster have won their last seven matches in all competitions since their 27-19 defeat at Ulster in the PRO12 on December 21. The Leinstermen have won six of their last seven encounters against Welsh regions in all competitions
– Leinster have won their last five matches against the Dragons since the Welsh outfit were last victorious at Rodney Parade in December 2009