Leinster unveil new players and new European home
By James Stafford
September 21, 2005

Leinster confirmed their intention to play their Heineken Cup games away from their Donnybrook home at a major press conference in Dublin today.

The Irish province will play its home games against Bath, Bourgoin and Glasgow at a purpose built 13,500 all-seater arena at the Royal Dublin Society (RDS). The RDS is a 40-acre multi-purpose site on the outskirts of the city centre that hosts a wide range of events including rock shows, science events, business conferences and art exhibitions.

'We have outgrown Donnybrook for the Heineken Cup pool stages,' said Mick Dawson, Leinster Chief Executive. 'The facilities do not exist for the fans there. Lansdowne Road is too big and the effect and atmosphere of playing there is not what the fans or players deserve. But we are confident we can fill the RDS for all three games and create a cauldron atmosphere. Our coach (Michael Cheika) is also pleased that he can have a wider pitch here at the RDS. We'll have the maximum width the laws allow as well as big in-goal areas.'

Whilst the pitch may be widened at Leinster's temporary home, the state of it does leave cause for concern. Extensive ground preparation has been promised (and is needed) to ensure that the field of play reaches professional standards. The irony is that Donnybrook, with a significant financial investment this summer, has never looked better that it has this season.

Dawson admitted there is a high economic cost to the relocation, certainly more than Lansdowne Road would have billed, but believes that will be offset by the many positive aspects the move brings. In particular, as well as creating a more electric match day atmosphere, the corporate facilities at the RDS, as well as prestige the venue has, allows the province to appear more attractive to sponsors and businesses.

The other significant news to come from the news conference was that Leinster have filled the vacant spots in their playing squad by signing New Zealand second-row Bryce Williams and goal-kicking utility back Jonny Hepworth from Super League side the Castleford Tigers. Both have been signed on one-year contracts.

Williams is a major signing for the club who lack depth and experience in the second-row; made all the worse by the knee injury suffered by Adam Byrnes on the weekend. The 25-year-old has played for the Canterbury Crusaders and Auckland Blues in the Super 12 and won the Ranfurly Shield with Auckland. He also has four Maori caps to his name. 'We had a real fight to get him here from the NPC,' said Cheika. 'He was very keen to come and took a personal role in the negotiations. He complements the squad and adds some real depth.'

The signing of rugby league player Jonny Hepworth appears an unusual move but Cheika is confident he will be a success: 'Leinster is a difficult team to recruit backs for with so much talent here. Jonny has great one on one defensive skills, can pass and kick off both sides and has a great running game and is a great thinker.'

Hepworth has played league for Leeds Rhinos and also the CAS Panthers in the Australian Rugby League. 'He has a full set of skills,' added Cheika. 'I think the multi-skill players in league are the ones who can be a success in union. I think Jonny can be a long-term one.'

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