Leinster look to cement top spot
March 17, 2010
Veteran lock Malcolm O'Kelly is set to make his 180th appearance for Leinster on Thursday night © Getty Images
The Magners League is playing catch-up rugby this week with three fixtures that fell victim to the snow at the beginning of the year.
Newport Gwent Dragons and Connacht get the action underway on Wednesday night at the Galway Sportsground in a St Patrick's Day fixture. The hosts will be in confident mood having not lost at home since September while the visitors have not won on the ground since May 2004. Victory would see the Dragons continue their push for a coveted top four spot and a place in the post-season.
Connacht have lost just one of their last four games in all competitions while the Dragons are undefeated in their last four games and have not lost to a team from Ireland since a visit to Munster in September. Connacht coach Michael Bradley has made five changes from the side which played Glasgow with Liam Bibo, Niva Ta'auso and Conor O'Loughlin coming into the backline. Adrian Flavin takes over at hooker from Sean Cronin, who is on international duty for Ireland's final Six Nations game against Scotland, while Ray Ofisa returns in the back row.
The action continues on Thursday with leaders Leinster playing host to fellow title challengers Glasgow Warriors at the RDS. Just one match point separates the two, although Leinster do have a game in hand over their opponents. The Warriors have a poor away record in Dublin having not won in 11 previous trips, whilst Leinster have not lost at the RDS since September 2008 and are unbeaten in their last seven matches in all competitions. In contrast, Glasgow have not won since beating the Dragons in the Heineken Cup in January.
Malcolm O'Kelly will make his 180th appearance in Leinster colours, while on the other end of the spectrum there's a first home start for Eoin O'Malley and Paul Ryan. The latter is rewarded with his home debut in a back-row which includes in-form duo Stephen Keogh and Kevin McLaughlin. Bernard Jackman captains the side and is named in a powerful front-row alongside fellow Ireland international Mike Ross and South Africa's CJ van der Linde. O'Malley, meanwhile, continues his centre partnership with Fergus McFadden, while Paul O'Donohoe comes in at scrum-half alongside Shaun Berne who continues at out-half.
Glasgow have made just one change to the starting XV that drew with Connacht a fortnight ago with Hefin O'Hare replacing Colin Shaw on the right wing with the latter on duty with the Scotland 7s team preparing for this weekend's IRB Sevens World Series event in Adelaide. The Warriors, who are without 14 members of their squad due to injury or international duty.
The other Thursday night clash sees Munster take on Scarlets at Musgrave Park with the hosts and defending champions under pressure to stay in touch with the leaders. The Welsh Region has won only once before on Munster soil, in September 2003, but Munster tripped up at the Dragons last time out. However, Munster have won their last eight clashes with Scarlets in all competitions since their Heineken Cup quarter-final in 2007.
Ian Dowling has recovered from an ankle injury to reclaim his place on the wing and while openside Niall Ronan also returns to the starting line-up. Munster coach Tony McGahan makes eight changes in total from the side that disappointed against Dragons last time, one of those positional with Paul Warwick stepping in to the fly-half berth while Scott Deasy gets to wear the No.15 jersey. The accumulation of three yellow cards means Lifeimi Mafi gets and enforced rest so Tom Gleeson will partner Jean de Villiers in midfield as he did in the game against Connacht back in December.
Up front it seems a case of freshening things up with Damien Varley starting ahead of Denis Fogarty and Julien Brugnaut in at tight-head for the internationally engaged Tony Buckley.
And Scarlets have two Wales internationals back with the region as centre Jonathan Davies and hooker Ken Owens both return from Wales' Six Nations training camp. Rewarded for a shining performance against Ulster, young 19-year-old scrum half Tavis Knoyle keeps his starting place and there will be plenty of the Scarlets' up and coming talent on show with 20-year-old fullback Dan Newton retaining his spot at fullback and powerful winger Joe Ajuwa also starting.