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Leinster's mixture of class and consistency will be too much for Dragons to cope with
Leo Cullen’s side take on the Dragons today in Rodney Parade.

IN PROFESSIONAL SPORT, coaches regularly fall over themselves with politeness when asked about the opposition. Yet sometimes you can be forgiven for being a little rude.

Today is one of those days. Check out the statistics around this game, you could see why Leinster could be tempted to look beyond the Dragons (kick-off 2pm, RTE2).

The Welsh side have lost their last 21 games against the four Irish provinces, even if they did give Leinster a bit of a fright last year.

“It’s something that’s eating away at me a bit,” said Sam Davies, the Dragons out half, of his side’s losing streak against Ireland’s provinces. “We find ourselves in a position where we can compete and beat the Welsh teams, but not the Irish sides.

“That’s a lot of points that go missing. You see the other Welsh teams turn them over. It’s a mental thing, win one and the pressure is gone.

“They are very good teams but one win could be a catalyst. It’s important we get that.”

Yet looking at the Leinster line-up, it’s hard to see them doing so. Check out what happened last weekend, Leinster demolishing the Bulls, Dragons losing by four points to Ospreys in a game they should have won. It’s a familiar theme for the club with the lowest budget in Wales.

Even so, they’ve a decent level of player in today’s squad, enough of them to make a game of it. Their back-row combo of captain Ross Moriarty, openside Ollie Griffiths and No8 Aaron Wainwright pose a threat on either side of the ball.

Out-half Davies has a good all-round game, while their back three – Wales international Jonah Holmes, in form wing Jordan Olowofela and the impressive full-back Josh Lewis – will need to be watched.

Then you look at Leinster. It’s rare you see players like James Ryan appear in places like Newport, Treviso or Parma. Yet here he is at Rodney Parade captaining the team for the first time. Ross Molony is alongside him in the second row and the former St Michael’s schoolboy made an interesting point in today’s Sunday Times about his Leinster debut, way back during the Matt O’Connor era. That too was against the Dragons. They lost that day.

james-ryan-and-ross-molony Ryan Byrne / INPHO Leinster's second rows, Molony and Ryan. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

It’s highly unlikely they’ll do so again today. For even if Dragons have selected a respectable, seasoned outfit – just one change from last week’s Ospreys game – their depth just isn’t comparable with Leinster’s.

Yes, there’s no Tadhg Furlong, Johnny Sexton, Robbie Henshaw, Caelan Doris, Jordan Larmour or James Lowe. But look who is here. Andrew Porter was due to be Lion during the summer prior to picking up an injury. He starts at loosehead; international centurion, Cian Healy, is on the bench. You’ve Ryan – Ireland’s captain during the summer internationals in the second row – three more Irish internationals, Josh van der Flier (who wins his 100th cap for the province today), Rhys Ruddock and Max Deegan, in the back row.

Even when stalwarts like Luke McGrath and Sexton drop out of the side, Leo Cullen can call on internationals, Jamison Gibson-Park and Ross Byrne, to replace them.

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We haven’t even mentioned Dan Leavy’s return to the matchday squad after a nine-month absence, Conor O’Brien is also on comeback duty after an eight-month spell on the recovery front.

There is a debut for winger, Rob Russell, offering the team the injection of energy that youth brings but then with Leinster, there’s always something extra, namely the solid, dependable performers, like Molony, Rory O’Loughlin and last season’s league joint top tryscorer, Scott Penny, who just deliver in these matches because they know if they don’t that it’ll be a long time before their next opportunity comes along. That’s why they’ll win this – because motivation coupled with quality is a potent cocktail.

Dragons: Josh Lewis; Jonah Holmes, Jack Dixon, Aneurin Owen, Jordan Olowofela; Sam Davies, Lewis Jones; Aki Seiuli, Elliot Dee, Mesake Doge; Will Rowlands, Ben Carter; Ross Moriarty, Ollie Griffiths, Aaron Wainwright.

Replacements: Taylor Davies, Greg Bateman, Chris Coleman, Joe Maksymiw, Taine Basham, Rhodri Williams, Adam Warren, Ioan Davies.

Leinster: Hugo Keenan; Rob Russell, Garry Ringrose, Conor O’Brien, Rory O’Loughlin; Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park; Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Michael Ala’alatoa; Ross Molony, James Ryan (capt); Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier, Max Deegan.

Replacements: Ed Byrne, James Tracy, Cian Healy, Ryan Baird, Dan Leavy, Nick McCarthy, Ciarán Frawley, Scott Penny.


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