Second-place Leinster are eyeing a return to the top of the Guinness PRO12 when they face Newport Gwent Dragons – who are riding high on the back of a win against Edinburgh Rugby last time around.
The pair meet at the RDS Arena on Saturday at 7.35pm as second plays ninth in a crucial contest, with ramifications at the top and bottom of the league.
What’s at stake? Leinster are just one point behind leaders Munster in second place, and will have their eye on toppling their fellow Irish outfit – who face a tricky trip to fifth-place Glasgow Warriors on Friday night.
The Dragons will provide a stern test, as they look to make it three wins on the spin in the league.
Team news (Leinster Rugby): James Tracy starts as hooker, while Ross Molony and Hayden Tracy come into the second row, and blindside Rhys Ruddock returns.
Luke McGrath and Joey Carbery both start, having made their debuts for Ireland in the recent Autumn Internationals.
Team news (Newport Gwent Dragons): Welsh international centre Tyler Morgan is the big name back in the Dragons’ fold, while Adam Warren comes in on the wing.
Nic Cudd, Harrison Keddie, Rynard Landman, Phil Price and Brok Harris all return.
Talking points: Leo Cullen’s Leinster will have been boosted by the news Ireland lock Devin Toner has signed a deal with the club until 2020, although the big second row is not in the squad to face the Dragons.
Meanwhile, Newport will be without centre Sam Beard due to a dead leg. Tyler Morgan, who replaces him, sung Beard’s praises this week.
“Sam’s probably been the best centre we’ve had this season and I’ve learnt a lot from him,” he said.
“He is a player who makes those right decisions at the right time.”
Key Battle: Angus O’Brien will face off against Isa Nacewa at a key matchup at fly-half.
Key stat: Leinster were on a six-game winning streak before losing against Scarlets in their last match.
Did you know? Dragons were the last team to beat Leinster on home soil in the Guinness Pro12, a 16-14 win in February 2015.
Leinster Rugby: Kirchner; Byrne, O’Loughlin, Reid, Nacewa; Carbery, McGrath; Dooley, Tracy, Bent; Molony, Tracy; Ruddock, Leavy, Conan.
Replacements: Strauss, Porter, Loughman, McCarthy, Deegan, Rock, Byrne, Daly.
Top Points Scorer: Ica Nacewa 56pts. Top Try Scorer: Adam Byrne 5.
Newport Gwent Dragons: Meyer; Howard, Morgan, Dixon, Warren; O’Brien, Knoyle; Price, Dee, Harris; Crosswell, Landman; Evans, Cudd, Keddie.
Replacements: Buckley, Davies, Fairbrother, Hill, Thomas, Pretorius, Jones, Prydie.
Top Points Scorer: Angus O’Brien 45. Top Try Scorer: Pat Howard 3.
TV: TG4 (KO 7.35pm)
Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR).
Assistant Referees: Matteo Liperini (FIR), Stuart Douglas (IRFU).
TMO: Stefano Penne (FIR).
Leinster kept up the pressure on Guinness PRO12 pacesetters Munster and Ospreys with a bonus-point victory over Newport Gwent Dragons to cut the gap to points difference.
A marauding first half saw Peter Dooley and Ross Molony cross in the space of two minutes at the RDS Arena, with Jack Conan’s score completing an emphatic first half.
Joey Carbery dotted down just a minute into the second period to secure the bonus point, though Pat Howard ensured the Dragons were not out of the fixture heading into the final stages.
And with Sarel Pretorius adding some bite for the Dragons, a purple patch saw them finish with a flourish, the South African ensuring the game closed out with a 28-15 scoreline.
After a tight opening between the sides, it was a moment of magic that brought Leinster their first points of the evening, with Luke McGrath the architect.
The scrum-half elected to take a quick tap penalty, Dooley eventually the man to profit to crash over with 12 minutes on the board.
And it was to get better just minutes later, McGrath again at the heart of the action when offloading to Hayden Triggs, the ball finding its way over to academy graduate Molony to dot down as Leinster came out of the blocks firing.
Angus O’Brien pulled a penalty back for the Welsh region to reduce the gap to 14-3, but moments after Tom Daly came on for his RDS Arena debut, Jack Conan stole the plaudits to barge his way through to get his side’s third score.
That, coupled with another successful Isa Nacewa conversion, extended the Irish lead, with Carbery making no mistake early in the second half.
The international fly-half made the most of some super Rory O’Loughlin work – the man who had his own effort disallowed upon referral from the TMO.
He faked a pass, broke through the tackle and perfectly offloaded to Carbery, with Nacewa’s fourth conversion of the evening seemingly putting Leinster out of sight.
But the Dragons refused to be beaten, Kingsley Jones’ side battling back in mightily impressive fashion, Howard crossing in the corner on 55 minutes for his side’s first score of the evening.
While the tricky conversion was missed, the visitors were not to be done there, with Sarel Pretorius – mightily impressive since coming on as a replacement – dotting down to send the nerves through the Leinster camp.
It was the scrum-half keeping Newport in with a chance of a losing bonus point, but despite the endeavour, it wasn’t quite to be for the Men of Gwent.
Guinness PRO12 Final 2017 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 adults and €5 child, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie. For further information visit http://www.pro12rugby.com/final
02 Dec 2016
02 Dec 2016