Saturday, February 14, 2015

Preview : Leinster v NG Dragons

In US sports many professional teams have a rule whereby a game cannot be televised live unless all the tickets have been sold out, and sometimes this leads to the networks buying up the remaining seats should they be falling short.  Makes sense if you ask me.

Things work a little differently in Europe however - once the TV deals are done it doesn't matter if the stands are empty, the armchair viewers get to watch.  Viewed in this light I suppose I can have few complaints that Leinster's match this weekend isn't on the box (though every other rugby match seems to have gotten some coverage), even more so since I'm going to it anyway! 

But if you can't make it to the RDS on Sunday, there's a good chance you'll be watching the Wales v Scotland match at home as a consolation...if so, why not have the laptop alongside you as I will endeavour to do a "Liveblog" much as I have done for British & Irish Cup matches this season.  Just come on over to HoR around 2:45pm and you should find me solidly updating throughout.

Now, to Leinster's task over the coming days - well, it's quite simple.  We play the Dragons at the RDS on Sunday, then we're at home again the following Friday to Zebre.  An awkward 5-day turnaround I know, but the Italians are playing on Sunday as well PLUS they have to travel.

Given that, despite our Six Nations absentees, we should expect nothing less than a 10-point haul from these two matches and anything less would be considered a failure.

I normally hate to seem so arrogant about Leinster, but for this particular brace of fixtures I truly believe that is a realistic expectation.  And what's more, we have a better squad to choose from than we normally do at this time of year.

Starting at centre, we have Noel Reid and Ben Te'o paired yet again.  This will give the rugby league convert another chance to get used to his position and his performances over the coming weeks could get a debate going over whether or not he should be considered for our number 23 jumper  against Bath, a selection which would surely start a media frenzy since his former Rabbitoh teammate Sam Burgess would likely be opposite.

Then we have a cracking back three with Dave Kearney and Fergus McFadden back from injury - Dave is at full back on this occasion with Darragh Fanning taking the other wing slot.

Finally in the backline there's another chance for Luke McGrath to show what he can do...he hasn't made the most of his starts this season but he certainly has the talent to grow in the position.  With Jimmy Gopperth outside to facilitate what are bound to be several pounding lines by his 11-15 there's definitely plenty of scope for "softening" up the Dragons defence.

Then we have our pack which also has a welcome returnee in Shane Jennings, who skippers the side.  As much as I admire Jenno as an openside, I haven't been his biggest fan as captain but nobody would be happier than I would be if he proves me wrong on Sunday.  With him in the back row there's plenty of strength in the form of Wolfhounds Dom Ryan and Jack Conan.

The front row of Bent-Strauss-Furlong have worked together before and done well, while Kane Douglas is partnered in the second row by Tom Denton who's game has been on a steady upward curve since his arrival from Leeds.

Add to all of the above to the internationals on our bench Mike McCarthy and Luke Fitzgerald, plus yet another injury returnee in Cathal Marsh (who is long overdue some Pro12 gametime and I hope he gets it - though Ross Byrne is certainly making a name for himself with the Wolfpuppies as well) and Matt O'Connor undoubtedly has a quality matchday 23 to get the job done.  They just need to go out and do it.

Of course I do not wish to disrespect the Dragons nor Zebre.  Although the Six Nations would tend to hurt them more selection-wise, they in all likelihood have their own versions of promising talent like Reid, Ryan and Conan in their ranks, so they cannot be taken for granted.  Plus, the Dragons have some proven names on show this Sunday like Jason Tovey, Andrew Coombs and Richie Rees.  

But once we can settle and make the most of our home advantage, it's not unreasonable to expect a decent margin of victory.  The bookies are saying 16points...screw that I say, I want at least mid-20s.  I'd even go so far as to say we should have a policy of going for it early.  I know all about the "take the three and establish a lead" argument, but these two matches are opportunities for us to show the rest of the league and Europe that we are still contenders, just in case the home European quarterfinal didn't manage it.

There are plenty of stern challenges ahead for Leinster this season, but these two matches are not among them.  The quest for a home semifinal starts now, and with Ospreys slipping up at Edinburgh last night every point is crucial.

#COYBIB JLP

DRAGONS : 15 Jason Tovey 14 Tom Prydie 13 Pat Leach 12 Jack Dixon 11 Hallam Amos 10 Dorian Jones 9 Jonathan Evans
1 Owen Evans 2 T. Rhys Thomas 3 Brok Harris 4 Andrew Coombs 5 Rynard Landman (c) 6 James Thomas 7 Nic Cudd 8 Nick Crosswell.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Buckley 17 Boris Stankovich 18 Dan Way 19 Ian Gough 20 James Benjamin 21 Richie Rees 22 Ashley Smith 23 Matthew Pewtner

Guinness Pro 12 - Round 14
At RDS Arena, 3pm
No TV coverage
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (WRU, 3rd competition game)
Assistant Referees: Stuart Gaffikin, Oisin Quinn (both IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: Tim Lowry (IRFU)

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