Tuesday 24 April 2018

Gibbes coup vital to Leinster's strength

David Kelly

David Kelly

A glance at Leinster's relatively strong team-sheet for tonight's game confirms that Jono Gibbes' retention as forwards coach by incoming Leinster coach Joe Schmidt could be one of the better pieces of business conducted by Michael Cheika's successor.

Even allowing for Six Nations absentees, Leinster are able to name a formidable pack containing no less than five Irish internationals, headed by captain Shane Jennings.

It will be upon their bedrock that another comfortable win against the West Waleians should be compiled while the eight should also secure an armchair ride for Jonathan Sexton, eager to vocalise his candidature for Twickenham on grass rather than paper. Eoin Reddan will also hope to impress the watching management although curiously he has appeared to have much more of an impact when replacing Tomas O'Leary for Ireland than in a blue shirt.

John Fogarty has been one of many Leinster players to benefit from Gibbes' guidance; unfortunately a slight niggling injury has forced him from the bench. However, he will be available to challenge Sean Cronin for a Twickenham bench berth.

"It's already being formalised that Jono will stay for the next two years," confirmed Schmidt.

"The forwards are very happy about that and Jono is very happy about that as well to be honest. I'm also really keen to sit down and see what (defence coach) Kurt McQuilkin's plans are."

The Leinster squad's impressive strength in depth has been marked by the 'A' side's notable run in the British & Irish Cup, securing another win against Exeter Chiefs last week in what is one of the toughest groups.

As visiting hooker Ken Owens attests: "You don't win the Heineken Cup without a massive squad, and some of their replacements, like Girvan Dempsey for Rob Kearney, are Lions and quality players."

The half-back pairing has oodles of experience out wide in Shane Horgan (175th cap) and full-back Dempsey (167th) while Bank of Ireland Leinster Player of the Month Isa Nacewa completes the back three. Neat play-maker Shaun Berne partners Fergus McFadden at centre.

Jennings forms an exciting looking back-row alongside Kevin McLaughlin and Sean O'Brien. Devin Toner lines up at lock alongside Malcolm O'Kelly who will make his 177th Leinster appearance.

Bernard Jackman, after a shocker against London Irish at Twickenham last month, is offered rehabilitation at hooker with Stan Wright and CJ van der Linde both named at prop.

The Scarlets are reunited with Wales trio Martin Roberts, Jonathan Davies, who forms a sexy midfield partnership with the smooth-running Regan King, and recently called-up hooker Owens, who is in line to make the bench against France next Friday.

Davies, one of the few bright spots during the Scarlets' humiliation on the double during December's Heineken Cup back-to-back clashes between these sides, links up with King, as the gifted New Zealander starts only his second game in a year after returning from a long-term hamstring injury.

Coach Nigel Davies has given impressive young Llanelli full-back Dan Newton his first opportunity to start for the region.

Newton, just 20, has been showing success with the boot in recent games in the Premiership with Llanelli RFC. Daniel Evans moves from full-back to the wing.


"Leinster are a strong squad and have depth," confirmed Davies. "Even without a number of their internationals, and that's what you need to be successful as a team. It will be a big challenge for us but we'll look forward to a good game."

Leinster are unbeaten in their last five matches in all competitions since Dragons beat them 30-14 at Rodney Parade in early December. They have won their last 10 games at the RDS in the league, with the last visiting team to win there being Munster in September 2008.

Scarlets have won their last three away games in all competitions and have not lost on the road in the league since a trip to Connacht last October and, although Cheika is still spooked by a spanking here three years ago, the Welsh sides' positive away form will surely end here.

Verdict: Leinster

Leinster -- G Dempsey; S Horgan, F McFadden, S Berne, I Nacewa; J Sexton, E Reddan; S Wright, B Jackman, CJ van der Linde, D Toner, M O'Kelly, K McLaughlin, S Jennings (capt), S O'Brien. Reps: R Strauss, M Ross, T Hogan, Stephen Keogh, P O'Donohoe, E O'Malley, A Conway.

Scarlets -- D Newton; D Evans, R King, J Davies, A Fenby; R Priestland, M Roberts; I Thomas, K Owens, D Manu, D Day, D Welch, R McCusker, J Edwards, D Lyons (capt). Reps: P John, E Phillips, R Thomas, V Cooper, J Turnbull, T Knoyle, G Maule.

Ref -- A Macpherson (SRU).

Leinster v Scarlets

Live, Setanta Sports 1, 6.30

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