Monday 18 December 2017

Hit-maker Wright begins farewell tour


Leinster prop Stan Wright begins his long lap of honour at the unlikely venue of Rodney Parade today.

When you're heading for your 33rd birthday in September and someone -- in this case Michael Cheika at Stade Francais -- comes along and offers you a two-year deal with an option on a third, then you don't take long about saying yes. So Wright did just that last week and from now until the end of the season Leinster fans will take their opportunities to salute a man who is up there with Felipe Contepomi and Rocky Elsom in the 'best buy club.'

Wright arrived in Dublin four years ago as emergency cover for the injured Will Green, and overcame a slow start to become a huge hit. Today is his 87th game and this stat would have been much higher but for a ruptured Achilles tendon last August, from which he is still finding his way back.

In the gap he leaves now it is expected that at last Jamie Hagan will sign for Leinster this week, leaving Joe Schmidt with a roster that comprises Cian Healy, Heinke van der Merwe, Mike Ross, Hagan and Jack McGrath.

The most significant selection in Schmidt's team this afternoon sees the return of Shane Horgan after a two-month absence. Horgan's 33rd birthday is looming in July, but he was in flying form when he injured his knee against Racing Metro. There isn't a huge amount of time left to get back to that point but Horgan needs to make the most of it to nail down a place in the World Cup squad, where he would be a valuable man to have around.

Isaac Boss on the other hand has stayed fit and in form and still doesn't appear to feature anywhere on Declan Kidney's radar. How useful would it be to have him as one of the three scrumhalves likely to go to New Zealand? His partnership with Jonny Sexton today gives Leinster real strength in a critical area, given their history of upset at Rodney Parade where they haven't won since 2007 -- typically since then they have gone there minus the stars, and incidentally there is no survivor in today's starting team from that one-point win four years ago.

Back then, Rhys Ruddock hadn't even left school in Somerset. He starts today at number eight, and if he continues in his current form then it will be good for both him and the team. Ask your bookie for odds on him making Ireland's World Cup squad. He has the right stuff.

Dragons: M Thomas; W Harries, A Hughes, T Riley, A Brew; J Tovey, W Evans; L Burns, D Way, L Charteris (capt), A Jones, J Bearman, T Faletu, L Evans. Reps: S Jones, H Gustafson, B Castle, A Brown, G Thomas, M Pewtner, A Jones, J Evans.

Leinster: I Nacewa; S Horgan, E O'Malley, F McFadden, L Fitzgerald; J Sexton, I Boss; H van der Merwe, R Strauss, S Wright, L Cullen (capt), D Toner, K McLaughlin, R Ruddock, D Ryan. Reps: A Dundon, J McGrath, S Shawe, N Hines, E Reddan, I Madigan, D Kearney.

Referee: A Macpherson (SRU).

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