Leinster Rugby are proving an unstoppable force in the Guinness PRO14 this campaign – but Dragons have one of their best line-ups of the season involved including 14 internationals and every man in the 23 is Welsh qualified.
They face a resurgent Dragons side that came out on top in a tense affair at Rodney Parade last time out against Edinburgh as Bernard Jackman’s men look to fight their way up the Conference table.
What’s at stake?
The defending champions travel to Newport with a sterling record against the men from Gwent – boasting 22 victories to Dragons’ nine in the head-to-head standings.
In the last five meetings between the two sides, it has gone Leinster’s way with Leo Cullen’s outfit winning on all five occasions – including a 52-10 drubbing this September.
But Dragons can take heart from their recent upturn in form as they’ve secured home victories in three of their last four Championship matches.
It won’t be easy though with the defending champions picking up victories in their last seven Guinness PRO14 clashes and have only lost once to Scarlets in early September.
Team news (Dragons):
Head coach Jackman has named a match day squad where all 23 players are Welsh qualified with 11 players that have also graduated through the Dragons pathway.
Dragons have made just one change following on from the victory over Edinburgh Rugby with back row Aaron Wainwright getting the nod after featuring against South Africa for Wales last week.
Following on from Wales’ autumn international clean sweep, Cory Hill, Ross Moriarty and Elliot Dee all return to the bench after seeing action against the Springboks. The bench could prove the winning of this game and Dragons certainly have the fire power to call upon.
Scrum half Tavis Knoyle is also recalled among the replacements while hooker Richard Hibbard will captain the Dragons from the front row.
Team news (Leinster):
Leinster have made a string of changes from the side that overcame Ospreys 52-7 last week with a host of their star Irish names coming back into the fold.
Leo Cullen has resisted the urge to throw his big guns back into the firing line and has opted to stick with a number of players that shone last time out including Hugo Keenan.
The youngster is set to make only his second start for the province, while Adam Byrne starts on the right wing and Dave Kearney comes in on the left.
Conor O’Brien is handed the No.12 shirt as he switched to outside centre as Jimmy O’Brien makes his debut after coming off the bench against Ospreys.
Jamison Gibson-Park and Ross Byrne start in Newport as half backs, while Ed Byrne starts after making his presence felt with a try off the bench last week.
Dragons head coach Jackman said: “It’s a massive game for us and we know we must raise our performance levels if we are to compete.
“There were elements of last weekend’s game with Edinburgh that were very pleasing and we need to ensure we now build on that.
“We’ve integrated our Welsh internationals back into the set-up this week and it’s a boost to have them involved
“When Leinster hit top form they can be devastating, as we saw when they beat Wasps in Europe and last week against Ospreys,” he added.
“When we played them in Round 3 we played 25 minutes with 14 men and it was difficult. Our discipline has to be spot on and the improvement with our defence needs to continue. It will be tested under the most extreme circumstances and we have to be ready.”
Key battle: Aaron Wainwright v Scott Penny
An intriguing battle has opened up between the teams two flankers as Aaron Wainwright takes on adversary Scott Penny on Saturday.
Wainright returns to the Newport set up after making his Wales debut at just 21 years old and he certainly caught the eye during his spree in the international team.
Ken Owens was one of his admirers and the Lions star came away impressed with his showing for Wales against Tonga.
Wainwright faces a different challenge this weekend against his opposite number that has only represented Leinster once in his career.
The youngster shone on debut against Ospreys by scoring his first professional try as Leinster clinched a bonus point victory, and Dragons pose an different challenge for the 19-year-old.
Key stat: Dragons have recorded only two victories against Irish provinces in their last twenty encounters – both at home to Connacht, in 2016 and 2017.
Did you know? The Leinstermen have won just once in their last four visits to Wales.
Dragons: 15. Jordan Williams, 14. Jared Rosser, 13. Tyler Morgan, 12. Jarryd Sage, 11. Hallam Amos, 10. Jason Tovey, 9. Rhodri Williams 1. Ryan Bevington, 2. Richard Hibbard (c), 3. Lloyd Fairbrother, 4. Rynard Landman, 5. Lewis Evans, 6. Harrison Keddie, 7. Aaron Wainwright, 8. Ollie Griffiths
Replacements: 16. Elliot Dee, 17. Aaron Jarvis, 18. Leon Brown, 19. Cory Hill, 20. Ross Moriarty, 21. Tavis Knoyle, 22. Arwel Robson, 23. Adam Warren
Leinster: 15. Hugo Keenan, 14. Adam Byrne, 13. Jimmy O’Brien, 12. Conor O’Brien, 11. Dave Kearney, 10. Ross Byrne, 9. Jamison Gibson-Park, 1. Ed Byrne, 2. James Tracy, 3. Michael Bent, 4. Ross Molony, 5. Scott Fardy (c), 6. Josh Murphy, 7. Scott Penny, 8. Caelan Doris
Replacements: 16. Bryan Byrne, 17. Peter Dooley, 18. Andrew Porter, 19. Mick Kearney, 20. Max Deegan, 21. Paddy Patterson, 22. Ciarán Frawley, 23. Tom Daly
TV: Rodney Parade, Newport Saturday 5.15pm. Live on Premier Sports, TG4, eir Sport
Referee: Lloyd Linton
Assistant Referees: Sam Grove-White, Dewi Phillips
TMO: Tim Hayes
Leinster hit 50 for the second Guinness PRO14 match in succession as nine tries saw them emerge from Newport with a dominant victory over the Dragons.
The win takes them further clear of second place Scarlets in Conference B after their Irish rivals had downed Edinburgh Rugby on Friday.
Dragons couldn’t build on a strong showing against Edinburgh last weekend as they struggled to contain their opponents, who at times proved indefatigable at Rodney Parade.
While it was the Dragons who showed early intent, backed up with good ball, it was Leinster who struck first.
The Irish side won the ball back when Jason Tovey threw a wild pass on halfway, making ground before Ross Byrne sent an inch-perfect kick diagonally across the field to find Dave Kearney, who welcomed the ball with open arms to dot down in the corner.
Dragons escaped conceding a second when Lewis Evans prevented Leinster from downing the ball in the same corner and was sent to the bin for his troubles after he was adjudged to have done so illegally.
— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) December 1, 2018
But their reprieve was short-lived as, from the resulting line-out, Scott Penny drove over a depleted Dragons line, with Byrne adding the extras to give the visitors an early 14-point buffer.
Leinster had their third when Scott Fardy once more capitalised on his side’s man advantage, lurking out wide after the visitors had drawn men into the middle of the park, with Jamison Gibson-Park looping a pass back across to the Australian to score in the corner.
The reigning champions thought they had the bonus point wrapped up as Caelan Doris was quick to spot a gap in the Dragons line at the ruck before diving over, but referee Lloyd Linton spotted that the back rower had stepped offside in the build-up.
Dragons had a golden chance to reduce arrears when Richard Williams stole a Leinster line-out but was held up, and the hosts couldn’t capitalise from the resulting scrum when they turned the ball over with half-time beckoning.
But it was Leinster who emerged from the dressing room with the bit between their teeth, notching their bonus point with a score almost identical to their first: Byrne’s kick again gathered by a wide-open Kearney who grabbed his second of the night.
Dragons got themselves a foothold when Rhodri Williams dashed over after Harri Keddie had broken the Leinster line, and the home crowd had hope.
But Leinster restored their lead when Doris crashed over the whitewash after the Irish side showed incessant desire at the breakdown, recycling the ball with an impressive sense of urgency to set up the no. 8.
And they proceeded to blitz the Dragons with three quickfire tries: Hugo Keenan made it six for the Guinness PRO14 reigning champions, collecting a deft chip from Byrne to scoot in under the posts.
Bryan Byrne then showed good hands to take Gibson-Park’s offload to dive over for the seventh, and Jimmy O’Brien added an eighth after a strong driving maul from a 5m line-out.
O’Brien capped things off with Leinster’s ninth of the night, sliding over in the corner after the Irish side had forced an overlap out wide.