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Leinster Rugby vs Connacht Rugby
Royal Dublin Showgrounds, Dublin
Friday, 02 November 2007, 19:30

Season Ticket: Magners League Ticket 3

After last week's ultimately disappointing draw against Ulster, Leinster face Connacht this Friday hoping to get back on the winning trail.  After settling back in last week, the big-name international players in the backline will be hoping to make more of an impression than they did in Ravenhill.

Last week the Leinster pack took any plaudits that were going.  Ollie Le Roux made a big impression in the scrum and the loose and the RDS crowd will be looking for more of the same on his home debut tomorrow night.  The lineout also went well with more variation and better accuracy.  Hopefully this will set the standard for the season.  However at times in the second half, the pack took on too many rucks and paid the price with turnovers.  Hopefully they will have learnt from this.

There are two changes to the starting pack with Stanley Wright coming in for the injured Stephen Knoop and Keith Gleeson coming in for Shane Jennings who drops to the bench.  Stephen Keogh has recovered from the neck injury he sustained last week to keep his place on the blindside flank.

There are also two changes in the backline but these will probably create more debate amongst Leinster fans.  Luke Fitzgerald comes into the team for Rob Kearney, who can consider himself unlucky to be dropped, considering he was one of the livelier backs last week.  It has long been suspected by some Leinster fans that all players are considered equal in the Leinster squad, but some are more "equal" than others (to paraphrase George Orwell).  Certain international players are seen as 'untouchable' and this selection seems to sustain that theory.

In another surprise move Christian Warner displaces Jonny Sexton who drops to the bench.  Warner is a fine centre, but he's struggled when played at fly-half over the years due to his limited kicking game.  Sexton has played well this season, averaging just under twelve points a game.  Some will wonder whether dropping him the week before the start of the Heineken Cup will be the best thing for his confidence, even allowing for the fact that Felipe Contepomi will more than likely start next week against Leicester.

A knock-on of dropping Sexton is the fact that Leinster will take the field without a recognised goal-kicker.  Connacht may well see this an insult as Michael Chieka seems to believe that Leinster will be able to win on tries alone.  Gordon D'Arcy and Girvan Dempsey have kicked for Leinster before, but the kindest description of their performances would be "mixed".  Some would describe this decision as brave, some would say foolhardy.  We'll see who's right tomorrow evening.

Connacht rarely lack motivation when they play Leinster, and Chieka's selection may raise their hackles even more.  Connacht made some high profile recruits during the summer but they've had a poor start to the season with only one win from the first five games.  They beat the Dragons at the Sportsground in their opening game of the season but then lost three on the bounce on their travels to Llanelli, Cardiff and Glasgow.  Things improved somewhat last week when they earned a draw against Edinburgh, despite being 14-3 down at one point.

Australian fly-half Tim Donnelly's kicking was very important and he appears to have been a shrewd signing.  Once again he's partnered by Conor McPhilips who's been re-located to scrum-half after the last few seasons on the wing.  The backline is unchanged and has an interesting mixture of experience (Gavin Dufffy, Mel Deane) and potential (Aidan Wynne, Keith Matthews).

The make-up of the Connacht pack is uncertain at this stage as captain Andrew Farley and Ray Ofisa will need to pass late fitness tests to take their places.  Even if they miss out, David Gannon and Mike McCarthey are fine replacements.  The Connacht pack has traditionally done well against the Leinster eight and the return of open-side Johnny O'Connor, plus the recruitment of former England prop Robbie Morris will only improve them.

Tomorrow's match has a strange feel about it, very much over-shadowed by the visit of the Tigers next week.  It's been a while since Leinster have failed to win for three matches in a row.  But if they let themselves be distracted by the big match next week, they could be in for a fall for the fourth time running.

Team Lineups
  Leinster Rugby   Connacht Rugby
Teams Girvan Dempsey 15 Gavin Duffy
Shane Horgan 14 Ofisa Treviranus
Brian O'Driscoll (C) 13 Mel Deane
Gordon D'Arcy 12 Aidan Wynne
Luke Fitzgerald 11 Keith Matthews
Christian Warner 10 Tim Donnelly
Chris Whitaker 9 Conor McPhilips
Ollie Le Roux 1 Brett Wilkinson
Bernard Jackman 2 John Fogarty
Stan Wright 3 Robbie Morris
Leo Cullen 4 Michael Swift
Malcolm O'Kelly 5 Andrew Farley (C) / Dave Gannon
Stephen Keogh 6 Ray Ofisa Treviranus / Mike McCarthey
Keith Gleeson 7 Johnny O'Connor
Jamie Heaslip 8 John Muldoon
Replacements Brian Blaney 16 Adrian Flavin
Juan Francisco Gomez 17 Ronan Loughney
Cameron Jowitt 18 Dave Gannon / Andrew Farley / Andrew Browne
Shane Jennings 19 Ray Ofisa Treviranus / Mike McCarthey / Colm Rigney
Cillian Willis 20 Conor O'Loughlin
Jonathan Sexton 21 Peter Durcan
Rob Kearney 22 Darren Yapp
Not Considered due to Injury Trevor Hogan
Stephen Knoop
Ronnie McCormack
Fergus McFadden
Officials Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)
Touch judges: Simon McDowell (Ireland), M Black (Ireland)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2007-11-02