After a bumpy start to the new Guinness PRO14 campaign, champions Leinster will be looking to get back on track when they welcome Dragons to the RDS Arena in Round 3.
The hosts were beaten by last season’s finalists Scarlets last time out, while Bernard Jackman’s new-look Dragons side got off the mark in Round 2 with a victory over Isuzu Southern Kings.
What’s at stake?
With both sides having an L to their name already, neither Leinster or Dragons will want to lose ground on the early frontrunners in Conference B even at this early stage of the season.
Leinster are just one point ahead of the visitors after two rounds, a narrow bonus-point win against Cardiff Blues in their season opener boosting their tally.
A losing bonus point against Scarlets also helped the cause of the Dublin-based province, while Dragons picked up a losing bonus point of their own in their defeat to Benetton Rugby.
Dublin has not previously been a happy hunting ground for Dragons, who were heavily beaten 54-10 last time at the RDS Arena, so they also have a point to prove.
Team news (Leinster)
Captain Johnny Sexton will lead out Leinster for the first time this season season against the Dragons as the hosts welcome back a number of Irish internationals.
There are also starts for Rob and Dave Kearney, with Jordan Larmour moving to the right wing, while Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose are partnered for the first time this season.
Ed Byrne makes his first start of the new campaign from loosehead prop, as does Andrew Porter at tighthead, with Seán Cronin selected between them at hooker.
Scott Fardy is joined by James Ryan for his seasonal bow, while in the back row Max Deegan, Josh van der Flier – returning for his first game since injuring his ACL in February – and Jack Conan complete the pack.
— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) September 14, 2018
Team news (Dragons)
Jackman has made three changes to Dragons for their trip to Dublin as Hallam Amos is set to make his 100th appearance for the Men of Gwent at the RDS Arena.
Nic Cudd comes in at openside flanker in place of Ollie Griffiths for his first start of the season after recovering from the major knee injury that forced him to miss last season.
Meanwhile, Lloyd Fairbrother takes over from Leon Brown into the front row at tighthead prop, while centre Adam Warren replaces the injured Tyler Morgan in midfield.
Griffiths and Brown are both among the replacements, while Jarryd Sage is also named on the bench alongside Richard Hibbard and Ryan Bevington.
Leinster back-rower Jack Conan said: “We’ve had two games where we’ve put in bit part performances, and now we’re looking at putting in an 80 minute performance.
“We’re going to have more lads coming back into the mix and getting game minutes and they’re going to add a different quality and another standard.
“We just have to be better than we were in the last two weeks. Everybody is unbelievably excited to get a run out in the RDS for the first time this year.”
Dragons head coach Bernard Jackman said: “Leinster are a quality side and we know we will have to put in a good performance to win. We expect to face a strong team over there.
“We’ve trained well this week in preparation. The boys were disappointed because we knew the Kings game was one we should have killed off, but it is nice trying to fix the errors having won.
“Last year, the group would have celebrated any win, but this group has a different objective and see themselves as potentially being better than that.
“They are keen to get that growth as quickly as possible. We were disappointed with a lot of the aspects of our game against the Kings and the best place to fix them is out on the field.”
— Dragons 🏉 (@dragonsrugby) September 14, 2018
Key battle: Johnny Sexton v Josh Lewis
Johnny Sexton will be looking to shake off the ring rust when he returns to the field for his first start of the season following last season’s heroics for club and country.
His opposite number Josh Lewis was the match-winner for Dragons last time out, racking up 17 points against the Kings and he will not give Sexton an easy ride on his comeback.
Key fact: The Gwent region have won just once in Dublin since the league was formed 15 years ago, defeating Leinster 16-14 at the RS Arena back in 2015.
Did you know? Benetton Rugby are the only side of the last 15 visitors to the RDS Arena to come away from it with a win, although they faced a second-string Leinster.
Leinster: Rob Kearney; Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Dave Kearney; Johnny Sexton (c), Jamison Gibson-Park; Ed Byrne, Seán Cronin, Andrew Porter, Scott Fardy, James Ryan, Max Deegan, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan.
Replacements: Bryan Byrne, Peter Dooley, Tadhg Furlong, Ross Molony, Caelan Doris, Hugh O’Sullivan, Noel Reid, Joe Tomane.
Dragons: Jordan Williams; Dafydd Howells, Adam Warren, Jack Dixon, Hallam Amos; Josh Lewis, Rhodri Williams; Brok Harris, Elliot Dee, Lloyd Fairbrother, Matthew Screech, Cory Hill (c), Aaron Wainwright, Nic Cudd, Ross Moriarty.
Replacements: Richard Hibbard, Ryan Bevington, Leon Brown, Brandon Nansen, Ollie Griffiths, Tavis Knoyle, Arwel Robson, Jarryd Sage.
TV: Live on Premier Sports 2, eir sport 1, TG4
Referee: Quinton Immelman (SARU)
Assistant referees: Joy Neville (IRFU), Mark Patton (IRFU)
TMO: Olly Hodges (IRFU)
A second-half masterclass from Leinster ensured the Guinness PRO14 champions romped to victory against Dragons as Jamison Gibson-Park scored twice in Dublin.
Tries from Sean Cronin and Josh van der Flier gave the hosts a 17-0 half-time lead at the RDS Arena after Ross Moriarty received a late yellow card.
Gibson-Park added a brace after the break, with Jordan Larmour, Tadhg Furlong and Scott Fardy adding further Leinster tries, while Jordan Williams replied with a magnificent try for Dragons.
But, despite Williams’ try likely to be among the contenders for end-of-season honours, Dragons still came close to suffering their biggest ever defeat at the hands of the Irish province.
The visitors’ previous biggest loss came back in 2004-05 when they were on the wrong side of a 55-3 scoreline, but Williams’ try prevented that record being broken.
With Johnny Sexton, van der Flier, Rob Kearney and Garry Ringrose all returning for the home side after last weekend’s defeat to Scarlets, the victory was the perfect response from Leinster.
— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) September 15, 2018
They opened the scoring after ten minutes when Gibson-Park sparked an attack from 30 metres out, with the scrum-half finding Cronin and the hooker doing the rest.
Sexton added a penalty as Leinster struggled to break down the Dragons defence, but as the pressure began to mount before half-time Moriarty was sent to the bin.
It proved costly as the 14 men were made to pay the price immediately, with Leinster scoring deep in injury-time through van der Flier following an excellently worked short-range scrum.
A Josh Lewis penalty at the start of the second half closed the gap to 17-3 but Moriarty’s absence continued to hurt Dragons as Gibson-Park skipped across the line for his first try.
With the hosts sensing blood, they soon struck again. James Ryan fed Gibson-Park and he chipped ahead for the onrushing Jordan Larmour to touch down as Leinster stretched their lead to 31-3.
🏉| What a moment of magic this was from Jordan Williams 🔥
— Premier Sports 📺 (@PremierSportsTV) September 15, 2018
Relentless pressure from Leo Cullen’s side continued to force the Dragons on the backfoot, with multiple phases providing the basis for Gibson-Park to dot down again on 56 minutes.
Then, against the run of play, Williams produced a moment for magic for the visitors as he collected the ball from 60 metres out and cut through the Leinster defence for a magnificent solo score.
It was only a brief reprieve, though. Gibson-Park once again played a starring role as playmaker, bringing Tadhg Furlong into play as the prop crashed over for another score.
Dragons suffered a further blow when Hallam Amos was forced off with injury on his 100th appearance, before Scott Fardy bulldozed his way over the line for Leinster’s seventh try.