Friday night at the RDS sees a rematch of last season’s Guinness PRO14 final as Leinster welcome Wayne Pivac’s Scarlets.
What’s at stake? Scarlets have good history in the RDS – they won the 2017 Semi-Final there on their way to the title. But since then Leinster have only lost once – to Benetton Rugby last April – at the RDS and are out in front at the top of Conference A.
Scarlets snapped a three-game losing run in the Championship last time out against the Dragons but have only won once on the road in the Guinness PRO14 all season.
And as they currently sit fourth in Conference A, need to turn their form around for the season run-in if they are to secure a spot in the Finals series.
Team news (Leinster): Rob Kearney is back from injury to take his place as captain at full-back with Barry Daly on the right wing and James Lowe back from suspension on the left.
In the centre Academy back Conor O’Brien and Rory O’Loughlin are again named together having also started against Connacht in the Christmas Inter-Pro.
— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) January 24, 2019
Hugh O’Sullivan makes his first start for Leinster having made his European debut off the bench only last weekend against Wasps. O’Sullivan will have Skerries RFC man Ciarán Frawley outside him in the No.10 jersey.
In the pack Jack McGrath, James Tracy and Michael Bent are the front row selected by Cullen with Ross Molony and Mick Kearney in the engine room.
The back row consists of Max Deegan, Scott Penny and Caelan Doris.
Team news (Scarlets): Steff Hughes will captain a Scarlets side deprived of 12 international stars.
That means that in come players like Ioan Nicholas on the right wing, while Kieran Hardy at scrum-half joining Dan Jones at ten following an accomplished performance against Racing 92.
Josh Macleod continues at No.8 with youngster Dan Davis at his side. One International who is available for Scarlets is lock Jake Ball who has an opportunity to gain some valuable game time before the start of the Six Nations.
Talking points Looking ahead to this week’s clash against the best team in Europe, Scarlets head coach, Wayne Pivac said: “It’s evident they don’t lose many games even though we have beaten them this year.
“I think it was a pretty good effort on our part, in particular that evening. We had to play well physically and match them physically which I think we did on that evening.
“We took our opportunities and were lucky enough to come out with a win.
Team Announcement | Cyhoeddiad Tîm
Here’s the team heading to Dublin to face @leinsterrugby tomorrow evening⬇️
Dyma’r tîm sy’n teithio i Ddulyn i wynebu Leinster nos yfory ⬇️#inthepack #ynypac pic.twitter.com/Z9r3UBoerE
— Scarlets Rugby (@scarlets_rugby) January 24, 2019
“I think our recent form is improving and we’re heading in the right direction. We’re really looking forward to Friday night, it’s a big game for both sides. When their Internationals are away, they get excited like our guys do so we’re expecting a very stern test.”
Key battle – Rob Kearney v Johnny McNicholl
On the eve of the 2019 Guinness Six Nations, Rob Kearney makes his injury return looking to prove his form and fitness to Joe Schmidt.
Ireland’s opener against England is just over a week away and Kearney will captain Leinster from full-back against the Scarlets.
In the No.15 jersey for the Welsh side is Johnny McNicholl – the man who scored a hat-trick in last year’s Guinness PRO14 final against the same opponents.
Key stat Leinster’s defeat to Munster at Thomond Park is their only loss in all competitions since October.
Did you know? Scarlets have never before done the domestic double over Leinster, but after beating them in round two at Parc y Scarlets, could make history on Friday night.
Leinster: Rob Kearney, Barry Daly, Rory O’Loughlin, Conor O’Brien, James Lowe, Ciaran Frawley, Hugh O’Sullivan, Jack McGrath, James Tracy, Michael Bent, Ross Molony, Mick Kearney, Max Deegan, Scott Penny, Caelan Doris
Replacements: Bryan Byrne, Ed Byrnce, Vakh Abdaladze, Jack Dunner, Oisin Dowling, Jamison Gibson-Park, Noel Reid, Jimmy O’Brien, Tom Prydie
Scarlets: Johnny McNicholl, Ioan Nicholas, Kieron Fonotia, Steff Hughes, Paul Asquith, Dan Jones, Kieran Hardy, Phil Price, Marc Jones, Werner Kruger, Jake Ball, David Bulbring, Tom Price, Dan Davis, Josh Macleod
Replacements: Dafydd Hughes, Dylan Evans, Simon Gardiner, Josh Helps, Ed Kennedy, Jon Evans, Morgan Williams
At RDS Arena, Dublin, 7.35pm.
TV: Live on eirSport, Premier Sports and TG4
Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR, 87th competition game) Assistant Referees: Frank Murphy (IRFU), Vincenzo Schipani (FIR) TMO: Olly Hodges (IRFU) Citing Commissioner: Eugene Ryan (IRFU)
James Lowe was at it again against Scarlets as his second-half try helped Leinster to an invaluable win.
The New Zealander crossed for a try in the Guinness PRO14 Final last season and his brute strength paid off again here as he powered over from close-range deep in the second half to give Leo Cullen’s side a narrow win.
Leinster had opened up a ten-point lead thanks to a Rory O’Loughlin try but Scarlets fought back to level the scores after a Kieran Hardy dot down.
But Lowe made the difference by powering over ten minutes from time before Barry Daly put the game beyond doubt a couple of minutes later, despite Hardy grabbing his second of the match late on.
Scarlets had reason to be confident heading into the match. They boast a strong record at the RDS Arena and claimed a famous semi-final win their back in 2017.
But Leinster have lost just once at home in the Guinness PRO14 since and commanded a 19-point lead at the top of Conference B before kick-off.
With the Six Nations starting next week, both squads were missing players – although Rob Kearney captained Leinster and Jake Ball started for Scarlets.
However, at a wet RDS Arena it was tough going in the first half with the forwards bogged down in scrums and line-outs and the kicking game took hold.
Scarlets had the better of the early stages and will feel frustrated at not making that show on the scoreboard, with a monster tackle from Lowe forcing a Scarlets knock-on in the Leinster 22.
However, Leinster gradually got into it and scored first just past the half-hour mark through a Ciaran Fawley penalty.
That gave the home side a boost and before half-time they had the first try, with O’Loughlin muscling over from close range after good work from the Leinster forwards to set up position near the Scarlets line.
Scarlets thought they reduced the gap seconds into the second-half when wing Paul Asquith intercepted a loose Leinster pass on the half-way line and sprinted clear.
However, when he dived for the line he came up short and the ball was dislodged. Minutes later, Dan Jones missed a penalty.
Despite the missed opportunities, Scarlets were beginning to grow back into the game and they finally put something together to get back into the match.
Dan Davis sidestepped Kearney on the right and slipped a pass inside for scrum-half Hardy to run in unopposed.
Jones, who converted, then levelled the scores with a penalty following a Leinster high tackle.
But Leinster quickly regained the momentum and took the lead when Lowe was found one-on-one on the lefty wing, where he bulldozed over Ioan Nicholas to score.
And Daly added gloss to the scoreline by dotting down a kick through before Hardy’s second set up a thrilling finale.
24 Jan 2019
24 Jan 2019