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Connacht Rugby vs Leinster Rugby
Guinness Pro12 Round 18
Sportsground, Galway
Saturday, 26th March 2016, 17:15

Television: Sky Sports 1/TG4

Games in hands are annoying things that aren't often seen in rugby. They annoy sports fans because you constantly need to reference them - "They're three points behind but have a game in hand". This season has seen a plague of them in the Pro12 caused by both the weather and other events. However they're even more annoying when you don't win the game in hand as Leinster failed to do last week. Leinster started brightly and an injury disrupted Glasgow looked there for the taking but an error-strewn second half from Leinster saw them leave with only a losing bonus point. It means Leinster remain a point behind leaders Connacht going into this weekend's top of the table clash in Galway.

Connacht have probably been the one bright note in a gloomy Irish rugby season at both international and provincial level. They've actually won one less game than Leinster this season but they're a point ahead by dint of their 11 bonus points, 7 of which were for scoring 4 tries or more. They're the top points and try scorers in the league and they've prospered playing a very attractive brand of rugby. Admittedly their defence isn't as good and they've conceded the most points and tries of all the teams in the top eight.

In Leinster they take on the team with the best defence in the league and in their first meeting of the season, defence won out as Leinster suffocated Connacht to win 13-0. Admittedly the weather, which was as bad as could be remembered in the RDS, didn't help their natural game. It remains to be seen if the weather will be similar on Saturday but the forecast doesn't look great.

Connacht have already had their most wins ever in a season and qualifying for the Champions Cup on their own steam for the first time by finishing in the top six looks almost certain. From this point on though they have a tough run of games which will stretch their squad. After Leinster tomorrow, they'll take on Ulster, Munster, Treviso and Glasgow in their last five games. As well as that they have a European Challenge Cup quarter-final against Grenoble to fit in on a weekend all their Pro12 rivals will have their feet up.

Connacht coach Pat Lam has made just two changes to the side that won at Murrayfield last time out. Both of the changes are in the backs as twenty-one-year-old academy player Peter Robb is named at centre for his first Pro12 start. On the wing, Niyi Adeolokun returns from injury at the expense of Danie Poolman. Ireland internationals Robbie Henshaw and Finlay Bealham are named among the replacements.

Leinster are able to call on 10 of the players involved in the Ireland squad last weekend plus there's the return of Luke Fitzgerald from injury. Fitzgerald returns to win his 150th cap for Leinster on the left wing. Fergus McFadden comes in on the right wing so skipper Isa Nacewa moves to full back. Ian Madigan comes in to start at ten in the final change to the backs. Cian Healy and Richardt Strauss come in to join Tadhg Furlong in the front row and Ross Molony joins Hayden Triggs in the second row. Dominic Ryan is partnered by Josh van der Flier and Rhys Ruddock in the back row. Leinster have named a very strong bench with Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, Mike Ross, Devin Toner, Jamie Heaslip and Eoin Reddan.

It promises to be a humdinger of a game but the strength of Leinster's bench might just swing it for them on the day.

Team Lineups

Connacht Rugby

Leinster Rugby
Teams Tiernan O'Halloran 15 Isa Nacewa (C)
Niyi Adeolokun 14 Fergus McFadden
Bundee Aki 13 Garry Ringrose
Peter Robb 12 Ben Te'o
Matt Healy 11 Luke Fitzgerald
AJ MacGinty 10 Ian Madigan
Kieran Marmion 9 Luke McGrath

Denis Buckley 1 Cian Healy
Tom McCartney 2 Richardt Strauss
Nathan White 3 Tadhg Furlong
Quinn Roux 4 Ross Molony
Aly Muldowney 5 Hayden Triggs
Sean O'Brien 6 Dominic Ryan
Jake Heenan 7 Josh van der Flier
John Muldoon (C) 8 Rhys Ruddock

Replacements Dave Heffernan 16 Sean Cronin
Ronan Loughney 17 Jack McGrath
Finlay Bealham 18 Mike Ross
Andrew Browne 19 Devin Toner
Eoin McKeon 20
Jamie Heaslip
Caolin Blade 21 Eoin Reddan
Shane O'Leary 22 Noel Reid
Robbie Henshaw 23 Zane Kirchner

Not Considered
Due to Injury
Ultan Dillane,
Ben Marshall,
Nepia Fox-Matamua,
Eoghan Masterson,
Jack Carty,
Craig Ronaldson,
Dave McSharry,
Rory Parata,
Darragh Leader
Ciaran Gaffney

Edward Byrne,
Tom Farrell,
Marty Moore,
Royce Burke-Flynn,
Gavin Thornbury,
Jack Conan,
Sean O'Brien,
Mike McCarthy,
Ross Byrne
Officials Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU, 132nd competition game),
Assistant Referees: Peter Fitzgibbon, Stuart Gaffikin (both IRFU),
Citing Commissioner: John Cole (IRFU),
TMO: Olly Hodges (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2016-03-25

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