Cheika happy to mix and match again for Dragons clash

THE word panic is clearly not in Michael Cheika’s dictionary; the Leinster coach has handed home debut opportunities to three players for tonight’s Magners League clash with Newport Gwent Dragons at the RDS (7pm).

Having lost the plot away to the Scarlets last weekend, the Heineken Cup champions will still be favourites to pick up the points against the Dragons tonight.

Cheika is confident that Mike Ross, Shaun Berne and David Kearney can all do enough to help see off the challenge of the short-term leaders.

Either way, it’s hardly a Leinster team lacking in experience. Isa Nacewa has been chosen at full back in a back division that includes Shane Horgan, Jonathan Sexton and Chris Keane.

The pack, led and captained by Leo Cullen, looks even stronger and Cheika’s selection affords another opportunity for towering Devin Toner to make his mark.

Cheika has resisted the temptation to start Gordon D’Arcy, Nathan Hines and Eoin Reddan but all three will play some role in tonight’s game, irrespective of how the contest is going.

To have players of that ability on tap must be comforting for the Australian. Yet, assistant coach Jonno Gibbes isn’t quite as comforted at the prospects of taking on the Welsh side, whom he described as “hugely improved”. He reckons Leinster will have to contest for everything on the deck tonight, because the Dragons most certainly well.

“If I had to sum them up in a word, it’s ‘bustling’, really. Anything on the ground, they’ll go for it,” said Gibbes.

“If you’re not committed to playing on the ground, they’ll bash you. They’ll get in your face, try and disrupt everything. They’ll keep coming forward and they will commit to fighting for the space.

“They’re different from before; they attack a lot more, ask more questions of opponents, and they won’t just kick and try to grind out a win,” he said.

That’s exactly what Dragons coach Paul Turner hopes to do. He said: “It’s going to be tough in Dublin to get the result we require, but we have had a boost of that victory last week (23-6) over Ulster and that did wonders for confidence.

“If we follow it up with another win over Irish opposition it would really be a magnificent start to the competitive season for us.”

LEINSTER: I Nacewa; S Horgan, F McFadden, S Berne, D Kearney; J Sexton, C Keane; C Healy, J Fogarty, M Ross; L Cullen (capt), D Toner; K McLoughlin, S O’Brien, S Jennings.

Replacements: J Harris-Wright, S Wright, N Hines, Stephen Keogh, E Reddan, D D’Arcy, Simon Keogh.

DRAGONS: M Thomas; A Brew, T Riley, A Smith, R Fussell; J Arlidge, W Evans; A McKenzie, S Jones, N Hall; R Sidoli, L Charteris (capt); D Lydiate, G Thomas, G Webb.

Replacements: D Goodfield, H Gustafson, G Robinson, A Jones, J Harris, J Tovey, A Walker.

Referee: Graham Knox (SRU).

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