Formidable Leinster look to build on impressive start

Deegan returns for first start since 2020 as four-in-a-row champions target Dragons

Josh van der Flier: was in impressive form during last week’s victory over the Bulls at the Aviva Stadium. He makes his 100th start for the province against the Dragons. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Josh van der Flier: was in impressive form during last week’s victory over the Bulls at the Aviva Stadium. He makes his 100th start for the province against the Dragons. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

Dragons v Leinster, Rodney Parade, Newport. Kick-off: Sunday, 2pm. On TV: Live on RTÉ 2, Premier Sports 1 and URC TV.

The four-in-a-row reigning champions laid down a marker last week against the Bulls, probably the pick of the South African sides.

It could be seen in the way they charged out of the blocks, put in a big defensive second quarter and celebrated on-field, be it tries or winning turnover or scrum penalties.

Leo Cullen has retained the pack en bloc save for Max Deegan replacing the injured Caelan Doris for his first competitive start since August 2020.

Josh van der Flier, man of the match last week, will win his 100th cap for the province and James Ryan will captain Leinster for the first time at the ground where he made his provincial competitive debut in September 2017.

With Luke McGrath, Johnny Sexton and James Lowe all rested, Jamison Gibson-Park and Ross Byrne are at half-back. The 22-year-old academy outside back Rob Russell, part of the Ireland under-20 Grand Slam in 2019, will make his competitive senior debut on the right wing while Conor O’Brien returns from injury at outside centre in his first start since February 2020.

Nick McCarthy, re-signed from Munster in the summer, Dan Leavy and Scott Penny are called onto the bench, where there is a 6-2 split.

The Dragons raced into a 16-7 lead at home to the Ospreys last week, and rallied to make it a one-score game at the end. In between though, they were porous through the middle in conceding 20 unanswered points. Dean Ryan makes just one change, with Elliot Dee starting at hooker.

Time was when the Dragons were tricky opponents for Leinster, winning nine of the sides’ first 26 meetings. But Leinster have won their last ten fixtures against the Dragons since the Gwent side’s 23-13 victory at Rodney Parade in January 2016.

DRAGONS: Josh Lewis, Jonah Holmes, Jack Dixon, Aneurin Owen, Jordan Olowofela, Sam Davies (CAPT), Lewis Jones, Aki Seiuli, Elliot Dee, Mesake Doge, Ben Carter, Will Rowlands, Ross Moriarty (Capt), 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: James Tracy, Ed Byrne, Cian Healy, Ryan Baird, Dan Leavy, Nick McCarthy, Ciarán Frawley, Scott Penny.

Referee: AJ Jacobs (SARU).

Betting: 6/1 Dragons, 33/1 Draw, 1/10 Leinster. Handicap odds (Dragons +17pts) 10/11 Dragons, 22/1 Draw, 10/11 Leinster.

Forecast: Leinster to win.

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