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Leinster Rugby vs Connacht,
Donnybrook, Dublin,
24th March 2007, 17:15

So after all the might-have-beens of the Six Nations championship, we're now back on Leinster time for the rest of the season.  The visit of Connacht on Saturday begins the run-in to the season end.  Obviously Saturday week's Heineken Cup Quarter-final against Wasps is the priority but Michael Cheika will be keen to keep fighting on both fronts.  Coming into this match Leinster know they have their future in their own hands.  Though their lead over Ulster is only one point, they now have a game in hand.  Six wins from their last six matches will almost guarantee them the title although realistically five wins would probably win it too.  It's not an easy run-in though, especially with trips to the Ospreys and Cardiff ahead.  So it's vital that they take maximum points against the men from the West.

After a bright start to the season, Connacht have struggled this year.  They made no impression in the European Challenge cup, losing five out their six matches (admittedly in a tough group).  Their win over Borders three weeks ago was their first Magners League win since October.  It was a crucial win though which kept them in the hunt for Heineken Cup qualification.  When Ray Hogan announced he was moving to Bristol at the end of this season, Connacht fans were probably fearing another mass exit of their top talent, similar to what they'd seen in the previous two years.  However they will have been heartened by the news of the return of three of their prodigal sons.   Johnny O'Connor and Mel Deane will return next season from Wasps and Harlequins respectively.  More immediately Gavin Duffy has returned from Quins also, and goes straight into the squad for Saturday's match.  Duffy was previously seen as a future star of Irish rugby but his career has stalled over the last few years.  He'll be a big addition for the Connacht backs and along with O'Connor will hope to relaunch his Ireland career at home.

Duffy will make his return at full-back which means this year's "bright new thing" Daniel Riordan moves into the centre to form a new partnership with Gavin Williams.  Wingers Darren Yapp and Conor McPhillps complete a pacy three quarter-line.  Munster bound Paul Warwick makes up an experienced half-back combination with Chris Keane.  There will be interest for the home crowd in the Connacht front row as tight-head Stephen Knoop has signed for Leinster next season.  Former Leinster lock David Gannon has been in great form this season and once again he starts alongside captain Andrew Farley in the boiler room.  In the backrow John Muldoon and Colm Rigby are hard-bitten operators and Ray Ofisa brings pace and power at openside.

Leinster will be looking for a record-equally 14th straight win at home in the Magners League.  They are boosted by the return of the international back three of Girvan Dempsey, Shane Horgan and Denis Hickie.  Kieran Lewis will replace Brian O'Driscoll at outside centre but there is uncertainty over who will fill the 10 and 12 jersey.  Contepomi and D'Arcy could well start, but don't be surprised to see Sexton and Warner there instead.  In the pack the big news is the return of Malcolm O'Kelly, who plays for the first time since the away defeat to Gloucester.  With a view to next week's match Mal will be looking to put in a big sixty minutes at least.  Stanley Wright continues to deputise for the injured Ronnie McCormack, otherwise it's business as usual up front.

As usual with Connacht it will be tough.  The game back in September was a spiky affair and don't be surprised if there's a few fireworks.  Connacht always give Leinster a tough time, but Leinster should have enough to maintain their home record.



Team: 15: Girvan Dempsey, 14: Shane Horgan, 13: Kieran Lewis, 12 / 10: Christian Warner, Gordon D'Arcy, Felipe Contepomi, Jonathan Sexton, 11: Denis Hickie, 10: Christian Warner, Gordon D'Arcy, Felipe Contepomi, Jonathan Sexton, 9: Chris Whitaker, 1: Stanley Wright, 2: Bernard Jackman, 3: Will Green, 4: Trevor Hogan, 5: Malcolm O'Kelly, 6: Stephen Keogh, 7: Keith Gleeson, 8: Jamie Heaslip
Replacements: 16: Brian Blaney, 17: Reggie Corrigan / Fosi Pala'amo, 18: Owen Finegan, 19: Cameron Jowitt, 20: Guy Easterby, 21: (see 12/10), 22: Luke Fitzgerald / Rob Kearney

Team: 15: Gavin Duffy, 14: Darren Yapp, 13: Daniel Riordan, 12: Gavin Williams, 11: Conor McPhillips, 10: Paul Warwick, 9: Chris Keane, 1: Brett Wilkinson, 2: Adrian Flavin, 3: Stephen Knoop, 4: David Gannon, 5: Andrew Farley (C), 6: John Muldoon, 7: Ray Ofisa, 8: Colm Rigney
Replacements: 16: John Fogarty, 17: Ray Hogan, 18: Michael Swift, 19: Matt Lacey, 20: Mark McHugh, 21: John Hearty, 22: David Slemen

by Jim O'Connor, © 2007-03-23