Fearsome back three take fight to Dragons

LEINSTER are in an unfamiliar position. Their success over the past three seasons has come with apparent ease, yet tomorrow they find themselves in a must-win scenario.

Lose to the Dragons and they enter a dogfight for the final play-off position — with a visit to Munster the following week, that is not an attractive proposition. Win and they could move up to second place, depending on the Ospreys result.

“Rodney Parade is a very difficult place to play,” said Leinster skills and kicking coach Richie Murphy.

“Over the last two years we have shipped reasonably big defeats so I think it will be about us getting ourselves right, being mentally ready. With the league position that we’re in at the moment it’s a ‘must-win’ game.

“At this stage of the season — I mean last year one or two teams had all but confirmed their places in the semi-finals — any one from six teams can realistically make the semi-finals. So, with that in mind, we’re very conscious that each game matters now and out of the last five games we’re going to have to try and win them all.”

Needless to say the Blues will field a strong team as they attempt to win at Rodney Parade for the first time since April 2007. Shane Horgan returns after a two-month lay-off and joins Luke Fitzgerald and Isa Nacewa in a lethal-looking back three.

Eoin O’Malley partners Fergus McFadden at centre, with Isaac Boss linking up with Jonathan Sexton at half-back. Leo Cullen leads the team and starts at second row alongside Devin Toner, with Kevin McLaughlin and Dominic Ryan joining Rhys Ruddock in the back row.

Murphy said: “A couple of the younger players have done well when they’ve played for the seniors. If you were to ask any of them I think they’d say that they have enjoyed their chances to play. The senior guys that are there are looking after them and helping them through the games. The young lads are progressing well.”

Dragons will be without Wales flanker Dan Lydiate and have injury problems in their back line, with only two fit centres in Adam Hughes and Tom Riley. They are without a win in their last four matches, all away rom home, while Leinster’s only loss in their last 10 games was an 11-3 reverse at Cardiff Blues in the League on February 19. The Dragons go into the game following a narrow 25-23 defeat to Ulster in Ravenhill.

“We were disappointed to lose last week, so it will be good to see a response,” said Dragons caretaker coach Darren Edwards. “It’s not easy at all (taking on Leinster). We are playing a top European team.”

DRAGONS: M Thomas; W Harries, A Hughes, T Riley, A Brew; J Tovey, W Evans; P Price, L Burns, D Way; L Charteris (capt), A Jones; J Bearman, L Evans, T Faletau.

Replacements: S Jones, H Gustafson, B Castle, A Brown, G Thomas, M Pewtner, M Jones, J Evans.

LEINSTER: I Nacewa; S Horgan, E O’Malley, F McFadden, L Fitzgerald; J Sexton, I Boss; H van der Merwe, R Strauss, S Wright; L Cullen (capt), D Toner; K McLaughlin, D Ryan, R Ruddock.

Replacements: A Dundon, J McGrath, S Shawe, N Hines, J Heaslip, E Reddan, I Madigan, D Kearney.

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