Leo Cullen hoping to give Bernard Jackman a hot reception

Leo Cullen is expecting a Dragons side revitalised under new ownership and the guidance of former team-mate Bernard Jackman when Leinster open their Guinness Pro14 campaign at Rodney Parade in Newport this afternoon (3:15pm).

Leo Cullen hoping to give Bernard Jackman a hot reception

Head coach Cullen has some fresh impetus himself at the start of his third season in charge of the Blues, handing debuts to star Australian forward signing Scott Fardy and rising back-three talent Jordan Larmour while newly-minted Ireland lock James Ryan waits for a debut off the bench. There are also welcome returns for full-back Rob Kearney after eight months out and hooker Sean Cronin, whose last campaign was cut short by hamstring and neck injuries. Cian Healy also makes his first appearance having missed Leinster’s pre-season friendlies against Perpignan, Gloucester, and Bath.

Yet it is the arrival of former Ireland hooker Jackman from Grenoble as Dragons head coach, the first appointment since the Welsh Rugby Union took over the club, an early Leinster reunion with former full-back Zane Kirchner and a competitive debut for former Wales star Gavin Henson at fly-half that gives this fixture an element of intrigue that may have been absent if the status quo had remained for last season’s 11th place team.

“Dragons are a tough team to play against and Bernard is someone who obviously knows Leinster very, very well, so it’s going to be a tough challenge for our guys,” Cullen said.

“Knowing the way Grenoble were set up, from an attacking point of view, and though it’s hard to get footage of pre-season games you’re able to see snippets here and there, they play with a lot of width in attack. They hold good shape on the edges and a lot of good, attacking kicking as well. So it’s going to be a tough challenge for our guys. So it’s really important this week that we’ve put our preparation in to give ourselves best chance.”

Springbok back Kirchner will be making his competitive debut for Dragons following his move after four seasons at Leinster. His exit allowed Cullen to sign exciting Kiwi wing James Lowe from the Chiefs as a non-Irish qualified back-three player.

“Zane is just a quality player, he had a great four years here with us. I know he was sad to leave but that’s the nature of it when a foreign player comes in. He’s a really tough competitor, very smart as well and I know, talking to Bernard, how happy they are with him over there, so hopefully he hasn’t given away too many trade secrets.”

DRAGONS:

Z Kirchner; A Hewitt, T Morgan, J Dixon, H Amos; G Henson, C Davies; B Harris, E Dee, L Brown; M Screech, C Hill – captain; J Thomas, J Benjamin, H Keddie.

Replacements:

R Buckley, L Garrett, L Fairbrother, R Landman, M Williams, T Knoyle, A O’Brien, J Rosser.

LEINSTER:

R Kearney; A Byrne, R O’Loughlin, I Nacewa – captain, J Larmour; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park; C Healy, S Cronin, M Bent; D Toner, S Fardy; D Leavy, J van der Flier, M Deegan.

Replacements:

J Tracy, E Byrne, A Porter, J Ryan, J Conan, N McCarthy, C Marsh, B Daly.

Referee:

Mike Adamson (SRU)

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