The Dragons host last year’s semi-finalists Leinster at Rodney Parade after somewhat of a revolution in South Wales. The Welsh side start the all-new Guinness PRO14 season with a new pitch, a new head coach and a new fly-half in Gavin Henson.
What’s at stake? Leinster only lost four Guinness PRO14 matches last term and will be keen to avoid a potential banana-skin away from home in the first round. Dragons will know that the first game of the season can lay down a marker for the rest of the campaign and will be desperate to improve on their 11th-placed finish last year.
Team news (Dragons): Experienced fly-half Gavin Henson makes his first Dragons appearance and will look to show his class from the off. Zane Kirchner is the Dragons’ other major summer signing and knows all about Leinster having recently joined from the club where he spent four seasons – he starts at full-back. Newly appointed captain Cory Hill partners Matthew Screech in the engine room.
Team news (Leinster): Scott Fardy is one of Leinster’s big summer recruits and has joined a squad with possibly the best back-row options in world rugby. Fardy makes his debut at lock, whereas fellow debutant Jordan Larmour starts on the left wing. Elsewhere, Leinster fans will be delighted to see Rob Kearney return at full-back after nearly eight months out.
Talking points: The game sees Leinster’s director of rugby Les Kiss attempt to get one over his old teammate Bernard Jackman, who’s now the top dog at Dragons having featured for Connacht, Leinster and Ireland in his playing days.
The game also makes history for the Dragons as the region welcome their first season under WRU control, and they will be looking for instant improvement.
Key Battle: 35-year-old Henson endured several injuries last season but impressed whenever he turned out for Bristol and was hugely influential at times. Dragons supporters will hope to see those talents on Saturday and with Jonny Sexton taking an extended break after his Lions duties, Henson goes up against the relatively inexperienced Ross Byrne at fly-half.
Key stat: The Dragons have not won on the opening weekend since they beat Ulster at Rodney Parade in 2013.
Did you know? Bernard Jackman coaches in his first Guinness PRO14 match having played exactly 100 Championship games for Connacht and Leinster between 2003 and 2010.
Dragons: Zane Kirchner; Ashton Hewitt, Tyler Morgan, Jack Dixon, Hallam Amos; Gavin Henson, Charlie Davies; Brok Harris, Elliot Dee, Leon Brown, Matthew Screech, Cory Hill (capt), James Thomas, James Benjamin, Harri Keddie.
Replacements: Rhys Buckley, Luke Garrett, Lloyd Fairbrother, Rynard Landman, Max Williams, Tavis Knoyle, Angus O’Brien, Jared Rosser.
Leinster: Rob Kearney; Adam Byrne, Rory O’Loughlin, Isa Nacewa (capt), Jordan Larmour; Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park; Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Michael Bent, Devin Toner, Scott Fardy, Dan Leavy, Josh van der Flier, Max Deegan.
Replacements: James Tracy, Ed Byrne, Andrew Porter, James Ryan, Jack Conan, Nick McCarthy, Cathal Marsh, Barry Daly.
TV: S4C, Sky Sports Action (KO 15.15pm)
Match officials – Referee: Mike Adamson (SRU). Assistant Referee 1: Lloyd Linton (SRU). AR2: Stuart Kibble (WRU). TMO: Neil Paterson (SRU).
Guinness PRO14 Final 2018 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 for adults and €5 for children, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie
Leinster cruised to a bonus point victory in their opening Guinness PRO14 game of the season to inflict a heavy defeat on Bernard Jackman’s Dragons at Rodney Parade.
Jamison Gibson-Park’s explosive burst over the line helped ease Leo Cullen’s side into a first half lead.
A penalty try and debutant Jordan Larmour’s effort within the first ten minutes of the second half asserted Leinster’s dominance.
Dan Leavy and fly-half Cathal Marsh helped Leinster to bonus points as a Dragons penalty try gave the home side some consolation.
Dragons debutant Gavin Henson made a good start to his career in South Wales as he kicked well but he couldn’t prevent the former league champions easing to victory.
Welsh international Henson endeared himself early to the Rodney Parade crowd as he quickly kicked the Dragons in a lead.
Dragons captain Cory Hill produced a fine first half display as he bravely held the Dragons line firm – cutting out Isa Nacewa’s pass as he surged towards the try line.
But he couldn’t deny last season’s league semi-finalists for long as Gibson-Park threw a fine dummy pass and burst towards the line to give Leinster their opening try of the PRO14 season.
Leinster continued to dominate the ball but an infringement in the scrum allowed Dragons to stay within touching distance of the Dublin-outfit.
A late Ross Byrne penalty just before half-time gave the visitors some breathing space at Rodney Parade.
And the Dublin-based team quickly snuffed out any chance of a comeback with two tries within the first 10 minutes of the second half.
Following a burst from Adam Byrne down the left wing, referee Mike Adamson gave a penalty try to Leinster and a yellow card to Matthew Screech for deliberately collapsing the maul.
Henson continued to produce a fine kicking performance but there was no stopping Leinster’s attacking juggernaut and there was a special moment for Larmour.
Great footwork from Adam Byrne committed the Dragons defence which eventually allowed Larmour to stroll over untouched to assert the away side’s dominance.
The blue wave continued to come and after a series of sustained pressure they secured their bonus point try.
Fine work from substitute Jack Conan as the Irish flanker bulldozed towards the line – splitting a tired Dragons backline.
In a blistering ten phases it eventually resulted in Leavy driving over the whitewash to give Leinster bonus points.
Referee Adamson then gave the home side a penalty try and a yellow card to Adam Byrne for a high tackle on Ashton Hewitt as he surged towards the line.
Their consolation was short-lived as replacement fly-half Marsh cut through Dragons defence to round off the scoring.