Newport Gwent Dragons host Leinster Rugby at Rodney Parade on Friday 24 February at 7.30pm as tenth welcomes second in the Guinness PRO12.
The home side are without a win since early January having lost both recent away trips to Munster and Connacht while Leinster have won all of their last four games.
What’s at stake?
A win for the Leinstermen could send them top above the Ospreys depending on how they perform against the Scarlets.
Dragons, who are level on points with Edinburgh, could climb above their Scottish rivals with a win should they slip up against Cardiff Blues.
Newport Gwent Dragons Team News: Head coach Kingsley Jones has made two changes to the side that lost narrowly to Connacht in round 15. Full-back Carl Meyer comes into the back three alongside Adam Hughes and Pat Howard.
Jack Dixon replaces Adam Warren in the midfield and will partner Tyler Morgan while half-backs Tavis Knoyle and Dorian Jones remain unchanged.
Jones continues with the same eight forwards that lost to Connacht last time out.
Leinster Team News: Leo Cullen has made eight changes to his Leinster side to take on the Dragons in round 16. Joey Carbery makes his first start for Leinster at full-back whilst there is also a welcome return to the starting side for Irish internationals Fergus McFadden and Rhys Ruddock.
Noel Reid and Zane Kirchner start in the midfield with Ross Byrne at ten and Jamison Gibson-Park picking up his 21st cap for Leinster at scrum-half.
In the pack, Richardt Strauss is back to captain the side from hooker with Peter Dooley and Michael Bent continuing at loose head and tight head respectively.
Open side Peadar Timmins makes his first start for Leinster after just five substitute appearances, he will be joined by Jack Conan and Ruddock in the back row.
Talking points: The visitors have made a host of changes, both personnel and positional. In last Friday’s game against Edinburgh, Cullen was forced into four changes before the break and saw his side finish with 14 men.
The Dragons are the more settled side and will be relishing the chance to play at Rodney Parade for the first time since their latest win on January 6.
Centre Jack Dixon admitted his side must put in a big performance if they are to down their Irish rivals.
He said: “We’ve got a good home record this season and we’re confident on our own patch. Results haven’t really gone our way the last couple of weeks but we’re still confident.
“Leinster are coming over and we’re looking to put in a big performance.”
Key battle: Tyler Morgan v Zane Kirchner
Morgan and Kirchner will line up against each other in the outside centre channel. The Dragon will be well aware of his opposite man’s counter attacking threat and will be tasked with nullifying the dangerous Springbok.
Kirchner, usually a full-back, will have to alter his game and offer himself as a ball carrying threat in closer quarters than he is accustomed to. With Joey Carbery shifting to fullback, it is vital that Kirchner goes looking for the ball in a new midfield combination with Noel Reid.
Key stat: The last four meetings between the two teams have all been won by the home side on the day, whilst the Leinstermen are going for a first season’s double over Dragons since 2013/14.
Did you know? Dragons only defeat at Rodney Parade since September 2016 came on New Year’s Day when they were defeated by the now table-topping Ospreys.
Newport Gwent Dragons to play Leinster: C Meyer; A Hughes, T Morgan, J Dixon, P Howard; D Jones, T Knoyle; S Hobbs, E Dee, B Harris; N Crosswell, R Landman; O Griffiths, N Cudd, L Evans
Replacements: R Buckley, T Davies, L Fairbrother, M Screech, H Keddie, S Pretorius, A O’Brien, A Warren.
Top points scorer: Angus O’Brien 86 pts Top try scorer: Pat Howard 4
Leinster team to play Newport Gwent Dragons: J Carbery; A Byrne, Z Kirchner, N Reid, F McFadden; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park; P Dooley, R Strauss, M Bent; R Molony, M McCarthy; R Ruddock, P Timmins, J Conan
Replacements: J Tracy, E Byrne, M Ross, H Triggs, M Deegan, L McGrath, C Marsh, B Daly
Top points scorer: Isa Nacewa 78pts Top try scorer: Adam Byrne and Rory O’Loughlin 6 each
Match Officials – Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR ) Assistant Referee 1: Claudio Blessano (FIR) Assistant Referee 2: Robert Price (WRU)
TMO: Non-televised match
Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 27, Dragons won 9, Leinster won 18.
At Rodney Parade, 7.30pm
Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR, 63rd competition game)
Assistant Referees: Claudio Blessano (FIR), Robert Price (WRU)
Citing Commissioner: Paul Thomas (WRU)
A quick-fire Jack Conan double set the tone as Leinster ran in eight tries to down Newport Gwent Dragons 54-22 at Rodney Parade and climb to the top of the Guinness PRO12 table.
No.8 Conan went over for two early scores as Leinster led 14-3 at half-time, and he was joined on the scoresheet by Jamison Gibson-Park shortly after the restart.
Adam Hughes then reduced the arrears but Leinster broke away with tries from Richardt Strauss, James Tracy, Hayden Triggs and a double for Luke McGrath.
Matthew Screech and Sarel Pretorius did dot down for the hosts but it did little to lift the mood at Rodney Parade as Leinster made it five Guinness PRO12 wins on the bounce and climbed to the summit after Munster’s home loss to Scarlets.
The Dragons actually started the game the brighter side and after some positive possession Dorian Jones slotted a simple penalty in front of the posts on five minutes after Leinster were pinged for taking down a scrum.
But five minutes later Leinster were ahead following a superb break from Joey Carbery. The full-back gathered an up and under inside his own 22 and after spotting a gap in the Dragons defence he raced 50m upfield before offloading to Conan who waltzed over, Ross Byrne adding the extras.
And No.8 Conan was celebrating a second try after 24 minutes following a Leinster lineout, with Byrne once again converting.
Newport refused to lie down though and continued to press for a try of their own, but despite several kicks to the corner their lineout failed to break through some rigid Leinster defending.
Jones did have the chance to reduce the arrears on the stroke of half-time; however he saw his penalty hit the crossbar and the hosts trailed 14-3 at the interval.
And things got worse for the Dragons just a minute after the restart as Conan this time turned provider as Gibson-Park jogged over after a good initial break from Adam Byrne.
Ross Byrne once again converted but Newport responded almost immediately as a superb run from Ollie Griffiths saw Hughes go over in the corner with Jones adding the extras.
The Dragons were buoyed by this and went looking for a quick-fire second but after several phases of play Peter Dooley forced a knock on in his own 22 and Leinster could breathe again.
And from the resulting scrum Conan broke and Carbery took off and captain Strauss touched down for the Leinster bonus point try, Ross Byrne converting on 54 minutes.
But the visitors didn’t stop there and just after the hour mark the Leinster pack was in full flow again after a lineout and Tracy dotted down, although Ross Byrne missed his first conversion of the night.
Newport stemmed the flow with a try in the corner by Screech on 66 minutes, but moments later Leinster were celebrating a sixth try as the Dragons lost possession and Triggs hacked the ball forward and outran the home defence to slide over.
This time Ross Byrne made no mistake with the kick and he was at it again shortly afterwards as great hands from Conan and Triggs set Adam Byrne away. He was stopped just short of the tryline but the ball was popped up to McGrath who went over.
And McGrath was over again for try number eight four minutes later with Ross Bryne converting, but the Dragons had the final say as Pretorius went over under the posts with Jones converting.
Guinness PRO12 Final 2017, 27th May, Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
Ticket Information: Fans can still avail of an exclusive number of €30 tickets. Book via www.ticketmaster.ie. Further information: www.pro12rugby.com/final