Chasing pack out to overhaul Warriors
December 31, 2009
Glasgow and Edinburgh renew hostilities this weekend © PA Photos
The festive cheer has continued north of the border, where Glasgow sit pretty at the top of the Magners League heading into the New Year.
The leaders accounted for their inter-city rivals Edinburgh last time out, with fly-half Dan Parks crashing through the 1,000 league points barrier in the process, and face Rob Moffatt's men at Murrayfield on Saturday.
Glasgow boss Sean Lineen has kept faith in his starting XV, naming an unchanged side for the game. Parks continues at pivot, with the Evans brothers, Max and Thom, providing the cut and thrust at centre and wing respectively. After a bruising encounter last weekend Lineen has delayed naming his bench, though.
Edinburgh have made four changes, with Scotland lock Jim Hamilton, prop Kyle Traynor, flanker Alan MacDonald and wing Mark Robertson all gaining starts.
The round's action kicks off in Newport on New Year's Eve, where the Dragons have an opportunity to atone for their second-half capitulation against the Blues with the visit of the Scarlets to Rodney Parade. The visitors are also smarting from their defeat to the Ospreys at Parc y Scarlets and are currently adrift as the bottom-placed Welsh side in the league.
Coach Nigel Davies has handed an opportunity to young scrum-half Gareth Davies following impressive performances for Llanelli in the Principality Premiership and also grants flanker Rob McCusker a start alongside Johnathan Edwards and David Lyons in the back-row. Rhys Priestland remains at fullback and Lee Williams and Andy Fenby are the wings in the absence of Morgan Stoddart.
The home side are boosted by the return of Wales lock Luke Charteris in the engine-room, with skipper Tom Willis starting at hooker after making his return against the Blues. Veteran Shaun Connor starts at fly-half in a game that will be marked by a specially commissioned Dragons shirt in aid of charity Sparkle.
Cardiff Blues will hope that their second-half blast against the Dragons can instil some much-needed confidence as they travel to the Liberty Stadium to face Ospreys in our Game of the Week on Saturday.
In Ireland, Leinster can regain top spot with victory over Connacht at the Sportsground, should Glasgow slip up in the capital. The 2008 champions saw off Ulster last time out thanks to tries from Lions duo Jamie Heaslip and Rob Kearney, while the home side will need a big performance to bounce back from a humbling defeat against a second-string Munster at Thomond Park.
Ireland trio Girvan Dempsey, Trevor Hogan and Mike Ross come into the Leinster team for the trip to Galway in a side that includes nine Ireland internationals in all. Dempsey starts at fullback and Shane Horgan and Isa Nacewa continue on the wings, while Ireland 'A' back Fergus McFadden will partner fellow former Clongowes man Gordon D'Arcy at centre. Eoin Reddan continues his half-back partnership with Shaun Berne. In the pack, Nathan Hines has recovered from injury to take his place in the back-row alongside Sean O'Brien and Stephen Keogh.
Captain John Muldoon and hooker Sean Cronin, who were rested last week in accordance with IRFU stipulations, return to the Connacht side. Also returning to the starting fifteen are Fionn Carr, Ian Keatley, Frank Murphy, Ronan Loughney, Robbie Morris, Mike McCarthy and Ray Ofisa.
Munster have a traditionally difficult trip to face Ulster at Ravenhill in the round's final game. Munster coach Tony Mcgahan makes six changes, two of those positional, for the trip to Belfast. Two of those changes are forced on McGahan by the injuries to Felix Jones in the game against Connacht and to Nick Williams who sustained a knee injury at training on Tuesday. Denis Hurley switches from the wing where he has impressed in the last three games to fullback while James Coughlan should prove a more than able replacement for Williams in the No.8 slot.
The other change up front sees Wian du Preez replace the injured Julien Brugnaut (groin) while McGahan's bench has a decidedly youthful look to it drawn as it is from either Academy or Development players, the only exception being Tom Gleeson who sits out the start behind Lifeimi Mafi. With some players not available by international dictat, Paul Warwick slips into the No.10 jersey while Mick O'Driscoll will captain the side.
Ulster head coach Brian McLaughlin has made a number of changes to his side with the province's four Irish squad players Stephen Ferris, Tom Court, Paddy Wallace and Andrew Trimble all return to front line duty. Trimble replaces Timoci Nagusa on the wing, Nagusa moving to the replacements bench. Paddy Wallace replaces Darren Cave in the centre and Ian Humphreys will play at out half, Niall O'Connor returning to the bench. Phoenix Ulster Rugby Academy player Jamie Smith retains his place at fullback. Up front Tom Court replaces Bryan Young at loose head, with Young moving to the replacements bench. Brady and Botha are retained at hooker and tight head. The second row is unchanged. Ferris starts at blindside, with Willie Faloon at openside, and Chris Henry will once again captain the side at No.8.
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