Saturday 18 November 2017

Captain Cullen urges caution as Dragons enter Leinster lair

Leo Cullen. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / Sportsfile
Leo Cullen. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

THE radar is rarely troubled when the Dragons fly across the Irish Sea, but with the All Blacks grabbing all the attention, tonight's visit of the lowest-ranked Welsh side will register all the impact of a small bird beside a 747.

But Leinster beware, this is the time of the season when the Dragons tend to pick up the valuable points that generally put them above Connacht at the end of the season. They are rarely troubled by Welsh call-ups, and despite Toby Faletau, Aled Brew and Danny Lydiate being drafted into the squad that takes on Fiji this evening, they are a lot more settled than their hosts.

Leinster coach Joe Schmidt is without the nine members of his team named in Declan Kidney's 22, while Nathan Hines is on Scotland duty and Mariano Galarza is with Argentina in France.

Schmidt has selected Fergus McFadden alongside Eoin O'Malley in the centre -- but flanker Sean O'Brien will not play after being left out by both club and country.

Shaun Berne starts ahead of Ian Madigan at No 10, while Isa Nacewa, Shane Horgan and Isaac Boss add experience in the backline.

Trevor Hogan celebrates his 31st birthday with the rarest of starts alongside captain Leo Cullen in the second-row, while giant prop Kiwi Clint Newland makes his debut in the front-row alongside Heinke van der Merwe and Richardt Strauss.

Again spurned by Kidney, Mike Ross is on the bench, while Rhys Ruddock can stake a claim ahead of Dominic Ryan at blindside.

After a stuttering start, the hosts are looking to extend their winning run to six games in all competitions and it is a sign of their strength in depth that eight of the match-day 22 are internationals.

Cullen, however, is urging caution against one of Leinster's bogey teams.

"Dragons are a team we've traditionally struggled against," he said. "They have threats across the board and if you underestimate them, they're going to cause a lot of problems. They're a real danger to us."

Schmidt has been apprehensive about the games that clash with the November Internationals, but with the availability of Boss and Cullen, the arrival of Newland and the assured presence of Nacewa and Berne, they should have more than enough.

VERDICT: Leinster

LEINSTER -- I Nacewa; S Horgan, E O'Malley, F McFadden, D Kearney; S Berne, I Boss; H van der Merwe, R Strauss, C Newland; L Cullen (capt), T Hogan; R Ruddock, S Jennings, S Keogh. Replacements: J Harris-Wright, J McGrath, M Ross, E O'Donoghue, D Ryan, P O'Donohoe, I Madigan, A Conway.

DRAGONS -- P Leach; W Harries, T Cheeseman, A Smith, A Hughes; J Tovey, W Evans; P Price, T Willis (capt), N Hall; S Morgan, R Sidoli; A Jones, G Thomas, L Evans. Replacements: L Burns, D Way, H Gustafson, L Charteris, H Ellis, R Gomer Davies, J Leadbeater, M Jones.

REF -- S Penne (FIR).

Leinster v Dragons

Live, RTE2, 7.05

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