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The Sportsground, Galway
Wednesday, 21 April 2010, 19:45

Television: Live Setanta Ireland

 Leinster make an unfamiliar midweek trip to Galway to play the fixture that was originally scheduled for January 2nd. After opting not to play the match during the Six Nations, this fixture was always likely to be at an awkward time and Leinster now have to play two games in two days with a trip to Glasgow on Friday. So coach Michael Cheika has taken the unusual step of naming his side for both matches early.

With the injuries that Leinster have suffered, the squad is being stretched to the limit and the twenty-two selected for Glasgow features eleven academy players, five starting and six on the bench. So Cheika has opted to put out the stronger line-up against Connacht. The aim is two-fold, first to get the win that would guarantee top spot and home advantage in the knock-out stages and second to give his first choice team a ten day lead-in to the Heineken Cup semi-final in Toulouse.

In all, Cheika has made nine changes from the team that took the field against the Ospreys. The big news is the earlier than expected return from injury of Brian O'Driscoll. With Gordon D'Arcy rested, he will partner Eoin O'Malley for the first time and it will be very interesting to see how these two naturally attacking centres combine. With Shane Horgan also rested, there's room for another exciting young player in Andrew Conway who makes his second start on the wing. Eoin Reddan has recovered from the injury that caused his late withdrawal last Friday to resume his partnership with Shaun Berne, who will take over the place-kicking from Fergus McFadden.

In the pack Richardt Strauss makes his first start for Leinster at hooker. He has been impressive in his few brief appearances off the bench so it's good to see him finally get a run from the start. The props are rotated again as CJ van der Linde returns from injury to play at tighthead in place of Mike Ross and Stan Wright comes in for Cian Healy on the other side. The two last changes in the pack sees Malcolm O'Kelly and Stephen Keogh come in for Leo Cullen and Jamie Heaslip who are both named on a very strong bench alongside Healy, John Fogarty and Paul O'Donohue. Shane Jennings again stands in for Cullen as captain.

For Connacht it's a second game in three days after they played Munster on Sunday. They were favourites for that match as Munster had named a very inexperienced, second-string team but Connacht couldn't get the win they so desperately wanted. It was an uncharacteristically frantic display and they were trying to force things too much leading to loads of handling errors and an astronomical amount of turnovers.

Connacht of course played Leinster in the RDS less than a month ago. It was a game they should have won, as Cheika himself conceded, and with a bit more experience of tight endgames, they could have (two late drops goal chances were squandered). To be fair, that experience stood to them as they followed it up by winning their next two games, both tight matches against Edinburgh and Bourgoin, with late kicks. This run of form has given them great hope of making the Heineken Cup for the first time in their history by over-taking a struggling Ulster team in the table.

All of this made the result against Munster all the more disappointing, but though it was an opportunity wasted they're still only four points behind Ulster with a game in hand. Of course if either Leinster or Munster win the Heineken Cup (or if they win the Challenge Cup themselves), they'll qualify anyway but they'd prefer to secure their own fate themselves before that. At the very least they'll want to go into their final match against Ulster with the game a winner-take all battle for the Heineken Cup.

A win tomorrow will put them at least level with Ulster and would make the trip to the struggling Scarlets on Sunday very interesting too. A lot will depend on how the Connacht squad reacts to the three day turnaround between matches, especially considering the injuries they're carrying.

They've named a team with eight changes from the one that started on Sunday. Both centres, Niva Ta'auso and Keith Matthews were injured in that match so Troy Nathan moves in from the wing and Aidan Wynne moves up from the bench to start. Brian Tuohy takes Nathan's place on the wing and the half-backs change as well with Conor O'Loughlin and Miah Nicora coming in for Frank Murphy and Ian Keatley, who drops to the bench.

In the pack both props are changed with Ronan Loughney and Robbie Morris rotating in for Brett Wilkinson and Jamie Hagen. Mike McCarthy comes in for Bernie Upton in the second row and Mike McComish plays at openside in place of Johnny O'Connor. Despite the changes it's still a fine team and number eight George Naoupu will be one to watch as his recent form has been excellent. It will also be interesting to see the match-up on the wing between Conway and Fionn Carr, who was on fire at the RDS. There certainly won't be any lack of pace on show in that particular encounter.

Leinster will approach this match with a lot more caution given their near-miss in the RDS. They know that Connacht will still lash into them physically from the start and it won't be easy. However Leinster have enough quality on the pitch and, perhaps as importantly, on the bench to secure the win to guarantee them top spot in the league.

Team Lineups

Connacht Rugby

Leinster Rugby
Teams Gavin Duffy
15 Girvan Dempsey
Brian Tuohy
14 Andrew Conway
Troy Nathan
13 Brian O'Driscoll
Aidan Wynne
12 Eoin O'Malley
Fionn Carr
11 Isa Nacewa
Miah Nikora
10 Shaun Berne
Conor O'Loughlin
9 Eoin Reddan

Ronan Loughney
1 Stan Wright
Sean Cronin
2 Richardt Strauss
Robbie Morris
3 CJ van der Linde
Michael Swift
4 Nathan Hines
Mike McCarthy
5 Malcolm O'Kelly
John Muldoon (C)
6 Kevin McLaughlin
Mike McComish
7 Shane Jennings (C)
George Naoupu
8 Stephen Keogh

Replacements Adrian Flavin
16 John Fogarty
Brett Wilkinson
17 Cian Healy
Bernie Upton
18 Leo Cullen
Andrew Browne
19 Jamie Heaslip
Johnny O'Connor
20 Paul O'Donohoe
Kieran Campbell
21 Ian Madigan
Ian Keatley
22 Simon Keogh
Not Considered
due to Injury

Luke Fitzgerald
Sean O'Brien
Ian McKinley
Jonathan Sexton
Rob Kearney
Dave Kearney
Devin Toner
Match Officials Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (IRFU)
Assistant Referees: L Colgan (IRFU), O Hodges (IRFU)
TMO: Dermot Moloney (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2010-04-20