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Connacht Rugby - Leinster Rugby
Sportsground, Galway
Friday, 29 February 2008, 19.30

Leinster resume their Magners League challenge with a tough away trip to Connacht. On the face of it, it's top of the table against bottom and should be a routine win for Leinster. However that doesn't take account of the fact that it's an inter-provincial derby. Though Leinster have generally beaten Connacht over the last five seasons, it's never been easy and there's rarely been more than a score in it. Even when Leinster seem to have won handily, the scores haven't really reflected the games. Last season at the Sportsground two late tries gave Leinster a flattering 31-16 win, but that didn't reflect how tight the game was right up until the last few minutes. Similarly at the home match this season, two late Gordon D'Arcy tries gave Leinster a twenty point winning margin which in no way told the story of the match. So while Leinster will travel with the confidence of league leaders, they will know to expect a hard-fought battle.

For Connacht it's once again been a tough, hard season. With the return of Gavin Duffy, Mel Deane and Johnny O'Connor there was some optimism at the start of the season, but this has largely withered. They still have hopes of finishing ahead of Ulster, but Matt Williams' arrival has galvanised the Northerners and Connacht's dream of a place in the Heineken Cup looks to be fading. That said, the visit of Leinster always makes them raise their game and a win could restart their campaign.

Connacht have a number of problems with injuries and have made three changes from the team that was well beaten by the Ospreys last time out. Keith Matthews has recovered from injury and returns on the right wing in place of Danny Riordan who picked up a knock in the Ireland 'A' game last week. The only other change to the backline is the return of Conor O'Loughlin at scrum-half for Conor McPhilips who drops to the bench. It will be a big game for ex-Leinster out-half Andy Dunne. He will be itching to show Leinster that they were wrong to let him go at the end of last season.

In the pack Mike McCarthy's injury means John Muldoon moves to the blindside with Colm Rigney starting at eight. Johnny O'Connor completes the back-row and he was instrumental in disrupting the Leinster ruck ball in the RDS in November. Andrew Farley captains the side from the second row in what is a tough, hard-working pack.

Leinster have left the wing spots open on their team but it's expected Shane Horgan and Gary Brown will take their spots in a backline that will be unchanged from the Cardiff match. There are three changes to the pack though. Ollie Le Roux's mixed throwing performance last day sees him moved back to his customary loose-head slot with Brian Blaney in at hooker. Blaney impressed when he came on against Cardiff so he deserves his spot. Cian Healy drops to the bench as does Cameron Jowitt who's replaced by Shane Jennings at blindside flanker. With Leo Cullen injured, Malcolm O'Kelly returns from Ireland duty to win his 138th cap for Leinster, only one short of Reggie Corrigan's record. In Cullen's absence, Chris Whitaker assumes the captaincy.

So it promises to be a tough battle, but once Leinster are focused and don't give away a fourteen point start like the last day, they should have just enough to earn a vital away win.

Team Lineups
  Connacht Rugby   Leinster Rugby
Teams Gavin Duffy 15 Luke Fitzgerald
Keith Matthews 14 Shane Horgan / Gary Brown / Fionn Carr / Felix Jones
Matt Mostyn
13 Christian Warner
Mel Deane 12 Michael Berne
Aidan Wynne
11 Shane Horgan / Gary Brown / Fionn Carr / Felix Jones
Andy Dunne
10 Felipe Contepomi
Conor O'Loughlin
9 Chris Whitaker (C)
Brett Wilkinson 1 Ollie Le Roux
Adrian Flavin 2 Brian Blaney
Robbie Morris 3 Stan Wright
Michael Swift 4 Trevor Hogan
Andrew Farley (C) 5 Malcolm O'Kelly
John Muldoon 6 Shane Jennings
Johnny O'Connor 7 Keith Gleeson
Colm Rigney 8 Stephen Keogh
Replacements Joe Merrigan 16 Cian Healy
Ronan Loughney 17 Stephen Knoop
Dave Gannon 18 Cameron Jowitt
Ray Ofisa 19 Kevin McLaughlin
Conor McPhilips 20 Chris Keane
Tim Donnelly 21 Eoin O'Malley
Liam Bibo 22 A.N. Other
Not Considered
due to Injury
John Hearty
Mike McCarthy
Danny Riordan
Ofisa Treviranus
Darren Yapp
  Jonny Sexton
Fergus McFadden
Gordon D'Arcy
Officials Referee: George Clancy (IRFU)
Sub Referee: D Wilkinson (IRFU)
Touch Judge: M Black (IRFU)
TMO: Dave McHugh (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2008-02-28