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Dublin: 7 °C Saturday 19 October, 2019

Welsh star Charteris tips impressive Leinster to retain Heineken Cup

The Dragons captain spoke glowingly about Joe Schmidt’s men ahead of this evening’s RaboDirect PRO12 encounter.

Dragons captain Luke Charteris.
Dragons captain Luke Charteris.
Image: Barry Aldworth/Sports Inc/Press Association Images

NEWPORT-GWENT DRAGONS CAPTAIN Luke Charteris has told that Leinster will be overwhelming favourites against Ulster in the Heineken Cup Final.

The Welsh lock will play his final match for the Dragons, against Leinster, at Rodney Parade this evening and believes Joe Schmidt’s men should have the edge over Ulster.

“I watched Leinster’s win over Clermont on Sunday,” he said, “and they were pretty impressive.”

“They have so much experience and never seem to panic. They will be the team to beat in the final.”

Not a Brad replacement

The 29-year-old says he was surprised that Rhys Ruddock has not got more game time with Leinster this season but notes the form of back row regulars Sean O’Brien, Kevin McLaughlin and Jamie Heaslip.

Charteris said, “Devin Toner is a very good player who should be pushing for Irish honours. He is definitely good enough for the step up.”

The man currently keeping Toner out of the starting line-up, in the Heineken Cup at least, is New Zealand lock Brad Thorn. Charteris remarked:

Brad’s not a bad injury replacement is he? That is the draw that Leinster have; they can promise big games and Heineken Cup exposure to top players.

Four game season

A wrist and shoulder injuries curtailed his playing time with the Welsh side. He was also away on international duty for three months of a season that began when he was handed the captaincy by coach Darren Edwards.

“I’m the worst captain in Dragons history,” he remarks. “It is a shame because it is my last year with the club after more than a decade.”

Injuries have cut Charteris’ club appearances to four this season. (©INPHO/Huw Evans)

Charteris will be settling in to life in the south of France next season after joining up with Top 14 side Perpignan.

He joins national teammates Gethin Jenkins, James Hook and Mike Phillips, among others, who have been lured to France by generous contracts and the opportunity to play at sell-out stadiums against top quality players.

Irish provinces prosper

The exodus of senior internationals from Wales has left the door open for young talents to stake a claim for starting positions.

However, while Wales have benefitted from the blooding of such young stars, domestic form has suffered and only Ospreys made this year’s play-offs.

This is in stark contrast with Ireland, who finished mid-table in the Six Nations but produced two play-off sides (Munster and Leinster) and both Heineken Cup finalists (Ulster and Leinster).

“(Ireland) have got their model right in club rugby,” Charteris admits. “They always have good teams that are there or thereabout. It is where we need to aim for.” He adds:

A lot of it comes to the money the Irish sides have. They can build high quality squads and keep their best players. If you look at Ulster, they were able to sign up Ruan Pienaar and John Afoa. It is about signing quality players, not just journeymen.

Next generation

“We couldn’t afford to buy in to such an extent. It has not been all bad as the Dragons had to promote young lads like Toby Faletau and Dan Lydiate, who have done great things since their arrival. Over at Scarlets, they are building up a great backline with players such as George North, Rhys Priestland and Jonathan Davies.”

Having turned 29 in March, Charteris admits that ‘the ship has sailed’ on his days as a youthful member in the Dragons and Welsh squads.

He feels the Dragons and, eventually, Wales will be left in good hands as there a number of talented young players and ‘some big, physical specimens’ coming through the academy ranks.

Two of those specimens, 17-year-olds Hallam Amos and Jack Dixon, are in the matchday squad as the Dragons hope to finish the season on a high and showcase young players that will, no doubt, be causing Irish sides trouble for many years to come.

* Dragons v Leinster kicks-off at 7.30pm.

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