Preview: Leinster v Dragons

Date published: December 2 2016

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen has named a strong matchday squad for Saturday's clash with the Dragons at the RDS Arena.

There is a welcome return from international duty for a number of players while it could be a very special day for a few others who are in line to make their debuts off the bench. In total there are three changes in the backs with another four in the pack.

Peter Dooley and Michael Bent continue at loose and tighthead prop respectively but James Tracy comes in from the start this week having come off the bench last weekend in Parc y Scarlets.

There is a new second row pairing with Ross Molony and Hayden Triggs starting while in the back row there is a further change with Rhys Ruddock coming in for the injured Dominic Ryan, with Dan Leavy and Jack Conan continuing at open side flanker and number eight.

In the backs, Zane Kirchner comes in at full-back which moves captain Isa Nacewa to the left wing and Adam Byrne continues on the right having scored a try in each of the last three games with Leinster. With five tries to his name for the season UCD winger Byrne is third on the PRO12 tries scored table.

It’s again a St. Michael’s combination in the centre as Noel Reid and Rory O’Loughlin continue in the 12 and 13 jerseys, while in the half backs Luke McGrath and Joey Carbery both start, having made their international debuts during the recent Autumn schedule.

On the bench two Leinster Academy players, Lansdowne’s Max Deegan and Old Belvedere’s Charlie Rock, are in line to make their Leinster senior debuts, with Jeremy Loughman is involved in a match day squad for the first time this season.

Meanwhile, Wales centre Tyler Morgan has been recalled to the Dragons starting line-up. After featuring off the bench twice for the Dragons in recent weeks, due to being released from Wales camp early because of a hamstring injury, the youngster is brought into the team by head coach Kingsley Jones.

Newport born Morgan, who comes in to replace New Zealander Sam Beard due to a dead leg, partners with Jack Dixon in midfield. Looking at Beard’s current form Morgan commented: “Sam’s probably been the best centre we’ve had this season and I’ve learnt a lot from him. He is a player who makes those right decisions at the right time. 

“Look at him in the first half against Edinburgh when Angus (O’Brien) made the line break then Sam had the opportunity to kick, he did and we scored. Second half I had a line break, didn’t kick and we didn’t score.

“That’s where I need to be. I’m quite modest and know I’ve got a lot to learn off the other players here.”

Along with Morgan, there is one other change in the backs as wing Adam Warren being named in the back three; joining fellow wing Pat Howard and full-back Carl Meyer. Whilst there is no change in the half-backs as fly-half Angus O’Brien is named alongside scrum-half Tavis Knoyle.

The front row has two changes made to it as loosehead prop Phil Price is named alongside tighthead Brok Harris, they are joined by hooker Elliot Dee. 

The second row sees the return of Rynard Landman, who sat out last weekend’s match due to his wife giving birth, and he is joined by Nick Crosswell. The back row has two changes made to it due to injuries, with flanker Nic Cudd and number eight Harrison Keddie joining skipper Lewis Evans.

The replacements bench has three changes made to it as Thomas Davies, Welsh International Cory Hill and Tom Prydie join Rhys Buckley, Lloyd Fairbrother, Sarel Pretorius and Geraint Rhys Jones.

The Men of Gwent are in high spirits as they have won four from four wins throughout all competitions at Rodney Parade and Morgan hopes to continue this streak away from home this Saturday. “There’s a lot of smiles on faces and the momentum is key, you see that at every level of rugby confidence gives you a head start.

“Leinster are a massive team with internationals and strength in depth so it will be a really challenging game, but we’ve shown we can win there before and there is no reason why we can’t do it again.”

Form: Leinster’s six match winning run in the PRO12 ended on Friday evening in Llanelli, although they did come away with their fourth try bonus point in that sequence. The Leinstermen have won their last 16 home games in the PRO12 and are unbeaten in 18 matches at home since the Dragons beat them at the RDS Arena in February 2015. The Dragons have won their last two PRO12 matches, at home to Connacht and Edinburgh, but have not won three in a row in the Championship since April 2015. Dragons have lost their last 16 away games in the Championship, their worst ever losing run. The Welshmen have lost just one of their last four fixtures against Leinster: 13-37 at the RDS Arena in Round 3 last season, whilst Dragons only success on Leinster soil was 16-14 at RDS Arena in February 2015. 

The teams:

Leinster: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Adam Byrne, 13 Rory O’Loughlin, 12 Noel Reid, 11 Isa Nacewa (c), 10 Joey Carbery, 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Dan Leavy, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Michael Bent, 2 James Tracy, 1 Peter Dooley 
Replacements: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Andrew Porter, 18 Jeremy Loughman, 19 Mike McCarthy, 20 Max Deegan, 21 Charlie Rock, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Tom Daly

Dragons: 15 Carl Meyer, 14 Pat Howard, 13 Tyler Morgan, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Adam Warren, 10 Angus O’Brien, 9 Tavis Knoyle, 8 Harrison Keddie, 7 Nic Cudd, 6 Lewis Evans (c), 5 Rynard Landman, 4 Nick Crosswell, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Elliot Dee, 1 Phil Price 
Replacements: 16 Rhys Buckley, 17 Thomas Davies, 18 Lloyd Fairbrother, 19 Cory Hill, 20 James Thomas, 21 Sarel Pretorius, 22 Geraint Rhys Jones, 23 Tom Prydie

Date: Saturday, December 3
Venue: RDS Arena
Kick-off: 19:35 GMT
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Matteo Liperini (Italy), Stuart Douglas (Ireland)
TMO: Stefano Penne (Italy)