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Connacht Rugby vs Leinster Rugby
The Sportsground, Galway,
Friday, 28th September 2012, 20:00

Television: Live – TG4

After a dignified tribute to Nevin Spence last week from both players and supporters, Leinster flew out of the blocks against Edinburgh. They were 10-0 up after fifteen minutes playing some very nice, free-flowing rugby. Yet after that they lost their edge against a determined Edinburgh team who tackled bravely and competed smartly at the breakdown. It took nearly 40 minutes for them to score again and even after Brendan Macken's two well-taken tries, they were still hanging on nervously at the end.

For all that though it was still Leinster's third win in four games and considering all the disruption caused by both injuries and the IRFU player management scheme, Joe Schmidt won't be too upset to be only two points behind the leaders the Scarlets in the table. He has admitted that the performances so far haven't been up to the usual standard, but Leinster are notoriously slow starters.

His counterpart at Connacht, Eric Elwood, would certainly be envious of Schmidt's problems of having a team winning despite not playing well. The men from the West traditionally start the season well, especially at home but so far they've only won one game from four and that was away to newcomers Zebre. Surprisingly they've lost both their home games so far. The first match was the season opener against a weakened Cardiff team but after a bad first half, the best Connacht could do was earn a bonus point. Their next home match was even tougher though.

They raced into a 8-0 half-time lead against the Scarlets and playing with the wind, had real hope for the second half. Instead they were blitzed by George North and company who ran in four tries to get a bonus point and deny Connacht one with an intercept try in the last play of the game. Last week Elwood sent an under-strength team to Glasgow, and though they lost 27-17, the performed quite credibly and deserved something from the match.

In picking last week's team, Elwood showed he was targeting this match and he's picked the strongest team available to him, even though he has an injury list which is as long as Leinster's. The big news for them is that Scottish international out-half Dan Parks is finally fit to make his debut, after signing from Cardiff in the summer. It is hoped his excellent place-kicking could make the difference for Connacht in those tight games they normally find themselves losing. With Frank Murphy and Paul O'Donoghue injured, he partners academy scrum-half Kieran Marmion, who was impressive in last year's Junior World Cup.

Another youngster Robbie Henshaw, who played very well in the centre against Glasgow, replaces the hamstrung Gavin Duffy at full-back. Tiernan O'Halloran and Fetu'u Vainikolo come back in on the wings and Eoin Griffin is back to resume his midfield partnership with Dave McSharry.

In the pack it's interesting to see that young prop Denis Buckley gets the nod over the more experienced Brett Wilkinson at loosehead. Adrian Flavin is the hooker and former Leinster player Nathan White captains the team from tighthead prop. Michael Swift, making his 150th appearance for the province, partners his old mucker Mike McCarthy in the second row. Swift's return prompts a reshuffle for the backrow with George Naoupu moving from the second row to number eight, Eoin McKeon moving from number eight to blindside and Johnny O'Connor moving from blindside flanker to openside in place of Willie Faloon who drops to the bench. It's a tough, experienced pack, with an exciting backline and as always Connacht will raise their game for the arrival of Leinster.

As with every week at this stage of the season, it's all change for Leinster again with a further 12 changes to the team that started last week. Rob Kearney is finally back after being held back the longest of all the internationals and his return means Isa Nacewa switches to the left wing in place of Fionn Carr. Fergus McFadden is named on the right wing for his second appearance of the season. After being forced off early last weekend, Gordon D'Arcy is fit enough to be named in the centre alongside Brendan Macken who'll be brim full of confidence after his two tries last week. After struggling with his passing at times last week, John Cooney gets another run at scrum-half and he partners Ian Madigan.

Once again, Shane Jennings is the only survivor from the pack and he captains the team from openside in a backrow that features Ben Marshall and Leo Auva'a. Marshall was impressive versus the Dragons but he'll know he will need to step it up even more against a physical Connacht pack. Both of the summer's second row signings Quinn Roux and Tom Denton get a run together in the boiler room. In the front row Heinke van der Merwe and Jamie Hagan are back in at prop and hooker Tom Sexton makes his first senior start. In truth, it's a fairly callow pack but there is some strength on the bench in the shape of Sean Cronin, Cian Healy, Mike Ross and Devin Toner.

With the Munster game coming up next week, Schmidt has been forced to rest many of his front-liners and he's taking a risk on the line-up in what's always a tough place to win. If the Leinster pack can generate some quick ball, there's certainly enough quality in the backline to do some damage but with a windy night forecast, it may well be a night for the purists. In last season's game Connacht really should have won, outscoring Leinster two tries to nil and being let down by their place-kicking. With Parks there this time and their need for a win being that much greater, you can just about see Connacht edging this one.

Team Lineups

Connacht Rugby

Leinster Rugby
Teams Robbie Henshaw 15 Robert Kearney
Tiernan O'Halloran 14 Fergus McFadden
Eoin Griffin 13 Brendan Macken
Dave McSharry 12 Gordon D'Arcy
Fetu'u Vainikolo 11 Isa Nacewa
Dan Parks 10 Ian Madigan
Kieran Marmion 9 John Cooney

Denis Buckley 1 Heinke van der Merwe
Adrian Flavin 2 Thomas Sexton
Nathan White (C)
3 Jamie Hagan
Michael Swift 4 Quinn Roux
Mike McCarthy 5 Tom Denton
Eoin McKeon 6 Ben Marshall
Johnny O'Connor 7 Shane Jennings (C)
George Naoupu 8 Leo Auva'a

Replacements Jason Harris-Wright 16 Sean Cronin
Brett Wilkinson 17 Cian Healy
Ronan Loughney 18 Mike Ross
Dave Gannon 19 Devin Toner
Willie Faloon 20
Jordi Murphy
Dave Moore 21 Luke McGrath
Miah Nikora 22 Noel Reid
Mata Fifita 23 Fionn Carr

Not Considered
due to Injury
Andrew Browne,
Gavin Duffy,
Matthew Jarvis,
Mark McCrea,
John Muldoon,
Frank Murphy,
Dave Nolan,
Paul O'Donoghue,
Danie Poolman,
Ethienne Reynecke,
Kyle Tonetti

Luke Fitzgerald,
Sean O'Brien,
Eoin O'Malley,
Rhys Ruddock,
David Kearney,
Mark Flanagan,
Conor Gilsenan,
Isaac Boss,
Dominic Ryan,
Aaron Dundon,
David Doyle,
Richardt Strauss,
Eoin Reddan
Officials Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (IRFU),
Assistant Referees: David Wilkinson, Michael Black (both IRFU),
TMO: Seamus Flannery (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2012-09-27