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Connacht Rugby vs Leinster Rugby
The Sportsground, Galway
Sunday, 5th October, 2008 18:00

Live: Setanta Ireland

Last weekend's match was set up to be a great occasion for us Leinster fans. There was unprecedented interest in a Magners League game at this early stage of the season. The scramble for tickets was intense, all the more so considering it was a Sunday evening fixture, not a popular time for either set of fans.

The match had even attracted intense interest from across the water. Stuart Barnes highlighted the match in the Sunday Times column, stating that the winner of the Heineken Cup was more likely to come from this match than any of the Guinness Premiership match-ups of the weekend. Praise indeed!

Before kick-off, the atmosphere crackled and there was an almighty roar as Leinster emerged.

This was going to be special!

And it was......but not in the way we expected.

We lost...

...to our biggest rivals...

...and we didn't score a single bloody point!

Ouch!!

That last factor was the one that hurt the most, along with the realisation that we didn't even come close to scoring a point after Contepomi failed with the third and last attempt at goal. As far as I'm aware, Leinster have never been 'nilled' in their professional history (I'm open to correction on this though, as I honestly haven't had the heart to go trawling through the records). To be 'nilled' at home by any team is bad, but for it to be Munster was pretty hard to take.

The men from the South were undoubtedly worthy winners, even if the final margin perhaps flattered them a little in what a brutally tough, hard fought game for seventy minutes. There were some positives in the Leinster display, most notably the brave defence that held out for so long, but the lack of control at the breakdown killed them. If we're honest, the breakdown has been a problem since the start of the season, but it was against the European Champions that was it was finally brutally exposed.

So all doom and gloom, right? Pack up the flags and the bodhrans and forget everything?

Well no actually, mainly due to one very important fact.

It was only our fourth game of the season!

Yes, only the fourth. We haven't even started in Europe yet and even the campaign to retain the Magners league is far from a lost cause. Last year our season's nadir was the away defeat to Edinburgh in the Heinken Cup. It was brutal, but the team learnt from it and responded well enough to win the Magners League. However it was too late to save the European campaign. If last Sunday's match is to be our season's nadir (and let us pray it is because I don't think we could take anything worse) then let's be thankful it's happened early enough in the season for the coaches to fix things.

So with the crucial first Heineken cup match (and a chance at redemption) away to Edinburgh only a week away, first up is a trip to Galway. If the Leinster fans cried in their beer after looking at the wrong end of 18-0 scoreline, then they should spare a thought for the fans out west, who could add another forty to the points against total.

Connacht took an awful 58-0 hammering last week against Cardiff, in what could only be described as a car crash performance. It was a record defeat for the province and since then, the rumblings amongst the fans about coach Michael Bradley's future have grown louder. Most frustratingly for the fans, they had come into the season with some optimism due to several seemingly astute signings and some good pre-season performances. But they've only won one match at home to Glasgow and they've taken two proper hidings away to The Scarlets and The Blues.

So from a Leinster point of view, this should be a cakewalk then? Well we shouldn't count on it!  Connacht always raise their game at home for the other Irish provinces, but they reserve a special place in their hearts for Leinster.  The fact that they feature a number of ex-Leinster players in their ranks only adds to the mix.  Fionn Carr and Ian Keatley start while John Hearty is on the bench.  They'll all be itching to show Leinster how they were wrong to let them go.

Carr has been one of the few bright spots for the Connacht fans this season and he, Mike Roberts and Frank Murphy are the only survivors from the backline that started against Cardiff.  Keatley comes in at out-half for the injured Andy Dunne to partner Murphy while Keith Matthews and Gavin Duffy return from injury to form a new midfield partnership.  Liam Bibo steps up from the bench to form a potent-looking back three with Carr and Roberts.

In the pack there are a further five changes with a completely new front five.  Sean Cronin replaces injured hooker Adrian Flavin and Ronan Loughney and Brett Wilkinson come in for John Lyne and Robbie Morris, who drops to the bench.  Former captain Andrew Farley and Mike McCarthy replace Andrew Browne and Michael Swift in the second row.  It's only the back-row of John Muldoon, Johnny O'Connor and Colm Rigney that's retained as a unit from last week.

Leinster have also made nine changes to the team that started last week.  With Edinburgh coming up next Saturday Michael Chieka has gambled on resting a number of key players such as Malcolm O'Kelly, Jamie Heaslip Shane Jennings and Brian O'Driscoll.  Chris Keane starts his first match of the season and he partners Jonny Sexton at half-back.  Luke Fitzgerald moves from the wing into the centre in a switch that Declan Kidney will be very interested in.  He's partners Felipe Contepomi who'll win his 100th cap for the province.  Rob Kearney gets his first start of the season at full-back and Simon Keogh makes his seasonal debut on the left wing, with Shane Horgan completing the back three.

In the pack Stan Wright and John Fogarty come in for Ronan McCormack and Bernard Jackman.  CJ van der Linde completes a formidable front row.  Devin Toner replaces O'Kelly as Leo Cullen's second row partner and Sean O'Brien and Stephen Keogh replace Heaslip and Jennings.  Rocky Elsom completes a backrow that's full of aggressive ball-carriers.

Despite all the changes it is a strong side.  That said, it still represents something of a gamble on the part of Chieka as Leinster have often struggled to win in the Sportsground even with their strongest possible teams.  It will be probably be wet, and will almost certainly be windy, but Leinster should have enough quality to get things back on track.

Team Lineups
  Connacht Rugby   Leinster Rugby
Teams Fionn Carr
15 Rob Kearney
Liam Bibo
14 Shane Horgan
Gavin Duffy
13 Luke Fitzgerald
Keith Matthews
12 Felipe Contepomi
Mike Roberts
11 Simon Keogh
Ian Keatley
10 Jonathan Sexton
Frank Murphy
9 Chris Keane
 
Brett Wilkinson
1 Stanley Wright
Sean Cronin
2 John Fogarty
Ronan Loughney
3 CJ van der Linde
Mike McCarthy
4 Leo Cullen (C)
Andrew Farley
5 Devin Toner
John Muldoon (C)
6 Rocky Elsom
Johnny O'Connor
7 Sean O'Brien
Colm Rigney
8 Stephen Keogh
 
Replacements Conor Muldoon
16 Cian Healy
Robbie Morris
17 Brian Blaney
Andrew Browne
18 Trevor Hogan
Michael Swift
19 Cameron Jowitt
Kieran Campbell
20 Chris Whitaker
Troy Nathan
21 Fergus McFadden
John Hearty
22 Gary Brown
 
Not Considered
due to Injury

  Gordon D'Arcy
Isa Nacewa

by Jim O'Connor, © 2011-08-23

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