Gopperth warns Leinster they need to up work rate
TONIGHT Matt O'Connor gets a first experience of life within the hierarchy of Irish rugby.
O'Connor has been denied access to all the players currently training with Ireland as 17 of his roster are enjoying the salubrious environs of Carton House.
Until now, O'Connor has just heard about the uniqueness of the Irish system, where the national side dictates which players are available to their clubs and, crucially, when. The former Leicester coach is fortunate that he is still able to call on some seasoned internationals, including captain Shane Jennings and former Lions player Luke Fitzgerald.
South African Zane Kirchner is also afforded the first start of his Leinster career – although it will be a mere cameo as he is rejoining the Springbok squad this month – while former Australian international Lote Tuqiri is also included in the starting team.
Under no circumstances can a team containing those talented individuals be called "weak". This is especially true when considering they are also fielding a back-row of Jennings alongside Rhys Ruddock and Dominic Ryan.
But there is a lightweight feel to Leinster's front five. This time last year Michael Bent was heralded as the 'next big thing' in terms of tighthead props when he was parachuted into the Ireland team for the November internationals.
He has since plummeted down the ranks and starts tonight's game at loosehead with Martin Moore starting on the other side after he spent the early part of the week training with Ireland having been called up as cover.
Quin Roux and Tom Denton provide the timber in the second row but there is a distinct lack of substance there.
The challenge for Leinster is to show they can win games of this nature even when denied their marquee players.
Their cause is helped enormously by the presence of their current first-choice pivot Jimmy Gopperth who partners the promising John Cooney at half-back. Gopperth has certainly enjoyed a great start to his Leinster career and has usurped the original heir apparent to Jonathan Sexton's jersey in Ian Madigan.
He started both their opening Heineken Cup games and has shown an ability to get the best out of those around him. If he is afforded quality possession and is able to bring Fitzgerald into the game, Leinster should win easily.
Leinster go into tonight's game on the back of three victories. "It has been good to get a run of three wins on the bounce, but each of the players knows that this week we have to step up," said Gopperth. "There will be a few new faces and it's important that we have a few of the experienced heads back. We will need to tap into all of our experience in Newport because they're going to be pumped up."
Leinster rode their luck against Connacht and were only just about able to put them away. Their issues last weekend have not been lost on Gopperth.
"We know that there's room for improvement after last weekend. We showed a bit of bottle to hang in there and get the win after being behind for spells against Connacht, but we know that we have to be more clinical at our set-piece and in attack.
"Our defensive effort was good and it will need to be better again because the Dragons are a team who like to play with a lot of pace out wide," he said.
Dragons, who are being linked with Lions scrum-half Mike Phillips in light of his troubles with Bayonne, are also at less than full strength. Andrew Coombs and Toby Faletau are both absent.
Director of rugby Lyn Jones has made eight changes to his starting XV, including Colwyn Bay-born Leach who returns to the Dragons fold after almost seven weeks out with his elbow injury.
Dragons have slipped to back-to-back defeats in all competitions, but have not lost at Rodney Parade in the RaboDirect Pro12 since Leinster were the visitors in March. The Leinstermen have not been defeated by a Welsh region in 2013, the last side to do so being Ospreys at Liberty Stadium in November 2012.
Leinster have won their last six encounters with the Dragons since the Welshmen's last success at Rodney Parade on December 6, 2009.
DRAGONS – H Amos; T Prydie, P Leach, R Wardle, A Hughes; J Tovey, R Rees; O Evans, S Parry, D Way, A Jones, M Screech, J Groves, L Evans, N Talei. Replacements: H Gustafson, N Williams, F Chaparro, R Sidoli, I Jones, J Evans, K Burton, D Evans.
LEINSTER – Z Kirchner; D Fanning, L Fitzgerald, N Reid, L Tuqiri; J Gopperth, J Cooney; M Bent, A Dundon, M Moore, Q Roux, T Denton, D Ryan, S Jennings, R Ruddock. Replacements: J Tracy, J O'Connell, T Furlong, B Marshall, L Auva'a, L McGrath, C Marsh, B Macken
Dragons v Leinster,
Live, RTE 2, 7.05