Sunday 21 January 2018

Leinster forwards must get physical to counter Scarlets' backline threat

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Quite strange and rarely wonderful so far this season, Leinster head for Llanelli today badly in need of an injection of their European Cup-winning class.

The champions got out of jail at home to Exeter Chiefs last weekend and have spent all week admitting that a similar performance at Parc y Scarlets in Pool 5 could cost them their title.

Qualification could come down to the back-to-back clashes with Clermont in December and, after the French side picked up a bonus point in their win over Scarlets last week, the advantage has already tilted their way.

There was good news for the blues yesterday when Wales centre Jonathan Davies failed to recover from his groin injury in time for the visit of the champions.

This will deny fans -- and Warren Gatland -- the chance to see the two favourites to wear the Lions No 13 shirt next June going head to head, but Brian O'Driscoll and Joe Schmidt won't care.

The New Zealander has made limited alterations to his team, with two personnel changes and one positional from last week's 9-6 win over the chiefs.

restored

Gordon D'Arcy is fit again and is restored to the centre, with Fergus McFadden relocated to the wing.

Schmidt also switches his hookers, with Sean Cronin coming in for Richardt Strauss to do battle with Wales captain Matthew Rees.

Andrew Conway drops to the bench, where Leo Auva'a makes way, as the coach reverts to a more normal 5/3 split in the subs after last week opting for six forwards.

For the hosts, former Ireland international Simon Easterby makes two changes from the team who held Clermont for much of the first half, before losing winger Morgan Stoddart to a second yellow card before half-time.

The French side took full advantage, running in 36 unanswered points. Stoddart drops to the bench to accommodate the return of Andy Fenby from injury, while Gareth Maule replaces Davies at outside centre.

It means the backline includes six of the seven players who started the opening day rout of Leinster at this venue, with Rhys Priestland boosting the ranks.

Both sides will be stronger than that day and it is hard to see the Welsh side putting anywhere near 45 points on the European champions this time, although they do have a number of threats in their backline.

But it is up front where Leinster can stop them.

Having lost the territorial and possession battles to Exeter last Saturday, the visitors will be keen to play in the right areas this week.

If they can keep the ball better and pin their hosts back, they can make it two from two.

Verdict: Leinster

SCARLETS -- L Williams; G North, G Maule, S Williams, A Fenby; R Priestland, T Knoyle; P John, M Rees, S Lee; G Earle, J Snyman; A Shingler, J Turnbull, R McCusker (capt). Reps: K Owens, S Hopkins, D Manu, T Vallejos-Cinalli, J Edwards, G Davies, A Thomas, M Stoddart.

LEINSTER -- I Madigan; F McFadden, B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy, I Nacewa; J Sexton, E Reddan; C Healy, S Cronin, M Ross; L Cullen (capt), D Browne; K McLaughlin, S Jennings, J Heaslip. Reps: R Strauss, H van der Merwe, J Hagan, D Toner, J Murphy, I Boss, A Conway, F Carr.

Ref -- G Garner (England)

Scarlets v Leinster,

Live, Sky Sports 1, 1.35

Irish Independent

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