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Leinster Rugby vs Connacht Rugby
Guinness Pro12 Round 10
RDS Showground, Dublin
Friday, 19th December 2014, 19:35

Television: Live - TG4

Leinster set out to make a statement at the Aviva Stadium last Saturday evening and they did. Unfortunately it wasn't the statement they wanted to make in that it showed where they really are as a team, as opposed to where they say they are. In the build-up to the game various players were put forward in the media to say what a great coach they had and how things were much better than the supporters and media are saying. Unfortunately Leinster played like a team with very little confidence in what their coach is asking them to do. You can spin things all you want in the media, you do your real talking on the pitch.

Though they were far from dazzling in the first half, Leinster had built up a decent lead on a Quins team who looked to have blown themselves out in the previous week's game. At 11-0 up, the fans would have hoped for them to push on for a comfortable win and maybe even a four-try bonus point. In the end however, Leinster were fortunate even to win by a point. Harlequins second half revival meant they now have the better of the head-to-head record and Leinster will now need to win their last two games and rely on a favour from Wasps against Quins to win the pool. So Leinster won, which we're constantly told is all that matters, but their failure to capitalise on a good lead meant it felt like a defeat.

Leinster have a lot of work to do in Europe, but there's urgent Pro12 business to attend to before that with three inter-pro's coming up in a row. They begin tomorrow evening against a Connacht team who probably has the best morale of all the Irish provinces at the moment. That feel-good factor is down to a number of things but it's mainly down to the number of wins they've put together this season. They have six wins and a draw from nine games in the league and three wins from four in Europe.

The fact that a lot of these wins came before their trio of high-profile Kiwi signings, Mils Muliaina, Bundee Aki and Tom McCartney, even arrived has only increased the positivity in the squad. Last week their coach Pat Lam was able to send a reserve team to Bayonne in the Challenge Cup and still win. Admittedly the French teams are barely trying a leg in that competition this season, but it was still an impressive performance by a young team to win over there.

This week Lam has recalled his big guns. Ireland's great white hope Robbie Henshaw is back from injury to take his place in the centre alongside Bundee Aki in what could potentially be a devastating partnership. That great All Black Mils Muliaina is at full back with the increasingly impressive pair of Danie Poolman and Matt Healy on the wings. There's a young half-back combination in Jack Carty and Kieran Marmion but both have been in excellent form this season.

In the pack Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney and the recently capped Rodney Ah You make up a very mobile front row. Quinn Roux, who's on loan from Leinster and who'll be looking to put in a big performance, is paired with Aly Muldowney in the second row. John Muldoon captains the team from blind-side alongside another young player having a great season in Eoin McKeon and number eight George Naoupu, who never seems to have a bad game against Leinster. Despite having an injury list even longer than Leinster's, it's a very strong Connacht line-up especially in the backline.

The Leinster team shows seven changes from the team that started last weekend. Noel Reid and Dave Kearney come into the backline in place of Ian Madigan and Darragh Fanning, who finally gets a rest after starting every game this season. There's a whole new front row in Michael Bent, Aaron Dundon and Tadhg Furlong and Kevin McLaughlin and Shane Jennings are finally fit to return to the backrow. The hard edge and experience of Jennings in particular has been badly missed. Maks Van Dyk, the South African short-term signing, who played a half for the A's last week, is named on the bench as replacement tighthead prop.

Connacht are only a point behind Leinster in the table and their selection last week showed they're putting all their chips into a top six finish which would see them qualify for the Champions Cup next season. That or finishing ahead of the three big Irish provinces would do them, so they're targeting tomorrow's game in a big way and will approach it with justifiable confidence.

With Glasgow playing Munster and Ulster playing the Ospreys, the winner of this game will more than likely break into the top four so it's a massive game for both teams. Connacht haven't won in Dublin since 2002, but there's been some close run things recently, especially last season. Connacht almost always produce a big performance against Leinster but this time there's a real substance to their confidence. They have some serious game-breakers in their backline and if they can launch these guys, Leinster could be in serious trouble.

Leinster need a big performance to win the match and restore some badly needed feel-good factor ahead of a tough trip to Thomond Park on St. Stephen's Day.

Here's hoping for a win and a Happy Christmas to all Leinster fans!

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Connacht Rugby
Teams Rob Kearney 15 Mils Muliaina
Zane Kirchner 14 Danie Poolman
Luke Fitzgerald 13 Robbie Henshaw
Noel Reid 12 Bundee Aki
Dave Kearney 11 Matt Healy
Jimmy Gopperth 10 Jack Carty
Isaac Boss 9 Kieran Marmion

Michael Bent 1 Denis Buckley
Aaron Dundon 2 Tom McCartney
Tadhg Furlong 3 Rodney Ah You
Devin Toner 4 Quinn Roux
Kane Douglas 5 Aly Muldowney
Kevin McLaughlin6 John Muldoon (C)
Shane Jennings 7 Eoin McKeon
Jamie Heaslip (C) 8 George Naoupu

Replacements Sean Cronin 16 Dave Heffernan
Jack McGrath 17 Ronan Loughney
Maks Van Dyk 18 Finlay Bealham
Jack Conan 19 Ultan Dillane
Jordi Murphy 20
Willie Faloon
Luke McGrath21 Caolin Blade
Cathal Marsh 22 Craig Ronaldson
Gordon D'Arcy 23 Darragh Leader

Not Considered
due to Injury
Sean O'Brien,
Cian Healy,
Martin Moore,
Edward Byrne,
Ben Te'o,
Richardt Strauss,
Fergus McFadden,
Rhys Ruddock

Jason Harris-Wright,
Sean Henry,
Shane Delahunt,
Nathan White,
Mick Kearney,
Andrew Browne,
Jake Heenan,
Tiernan O'Halloran,
Fionn Carr,
Miah Nikora,
Ian Porter,
John Cooney
Officials Referee: Ian Davies (WRU, 23rd competition game),
Assistant Referees: Leo Colgan, Andy Brace (both IRFU),
Citing Commissioner: Peter Ferguson (IRFU),
TMO: Marshall Kilgore (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2014-12-18