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Connacht Rugby vs Leinster Rugby
Rabodirect Pro12 Round 12,
The Sportground, Galway,
Saturday, 4th January 2014, 19:15

Television: Live - TG4

That was a lot more like it from Leinster!

After two fairly dismal performances in a row they turned up in an angry humour versus Ulster and took them apart. They brought a real physical edge to everything they did and really should have won by a larger margin. When the teams were named Ulster seemed to have the stronger hand, but the men from the North never looked as if they believed they could win. True, Leinster should have put more scores on the board, especially in the first half when they dominated possession and territory but it was still a massive improvement on what had gone before and the win put Leinster back into second place in the table.

Of course the win came at the cost of losing Sean O'Brien for most of the rest of the season to a dislocated shoulder. The poor lad is a bit cursed with injuries at the moment and it's a massive blow to Leinster. But it's a chance for other players to put their hands up and in that respect it's hugely encouraging to see young back rows like Jordi Murphy, Rhys Ruddock and Dominic Ryan in such good form.

Leinster will look to build on that performance against a Connacht team who always show up when playing Leinster. They were unlucky to lose a narrow one when they played at the RDS earlier in the season. It's been quite an odd first season for Connacht under new coach Pat Lam. Their league results have been abysmal with their only two wins coming at home to Zebre and the Dragons. Their nadir was getting a hiding away to Edinburgh of all teams. That performance was so bad Lam was moved to apologise to the fans on behalf of the team.

The wheels seemed to be coming off in a bad way so no one expected what happened in the next game when Connacht went away to mighty Toulouse......and won! It was one of the great upsets in European rugby and was certainly Connacht's greatest ever win. Unfortunately reality hit back with a vengeance when a seething Toulouse squad came to Galway the following week and hammered them (although admittedly the Connacht squad had been ravaged by a virus in the intervening week).

Since that game though, they beat the Dragons and put in a creditable performance away to Munster to secure a losing bonus point. However, they've named a team that reflects their lengthy injury list with a debut at number 10 for academy out-half Jack Carty. Carty will be partnered by Kieran Marmion, who is remarkably playing his 44th game in a row since he made his debut. There's an all-Irish three-quarter line featuring two former Leinster representatives on the wing in Fionn Carr and Matt Healy and exciting home-grown talent in the centre in Robbie Henshaw and Eoin Griffin.

There are three more former Leinster players in the front five in Jason Harris-Wright, Nathan White and Mick Kearney with Brett Wilkinson and skipper Craig Clarke completing an impressive unit. Andrew Browne earns his 100th cap in the backrow with John Muldoon and Eoin McKeon rounding out what is a strong and mobile trio. There is experience on the bench to call on too in the shape of Michael Swift, George Naoupu and Dan Parks.

For Leinster, coach Matt O'Connor is able to recall a number of his international stars after resting most of them for the past two games. O'Connor seems to have taken a different tack to his selections over Christmas to Joe Schmidt, who would famously mix and match his teams with internationals and less experienced players. Perhaps in preparation for a potentially season-defining game away to Castres next week, O'Connor has named what is pretty close to a first choice team.

The only Leinster player who is seemingly immune to being rested these days is Luke Fitzgerald, who starts his sixth game in a row on the left wing. Perhaps he's making up for lost time after all his injury problems over the last few years? He's the only player in the backs to retain the same jersey as last week as Rob Kearney, Brian O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy, Ian Madigan and Eoin Reddan come in and Zane Kirchner is moved from full back to make a first Leinster start on the right wing.

In the pack only Martin Moore and Rhys Ruddock keep their spots from last week. Jack McGrath and Sean Cronin come into the front row and Devin Toner and Tom Denton form a new second row pairing. Jamie Heaslip returns to captain the team from number eight which means Jordi Murphy moves from eight to open-side to audition for the role of Sean O'Brien's replacement. Though Murphy started his Leinster career on the openside, he's mainly played at number eight since the middle of last season. However such is his form at the moment, his ball-carrying and physical presence could be the best substitute for O'Brien for the two crucial matches coming up.

Judging purely on the team-sheets Leinster should really win this match comfortably, but as we've seen before nothing inspires a Connacht player like the sight of a blue jersey and they'll be well up for this match. The weather forecast isn't actually that bad so we might get some decent rugby but don't be surprised if this is a classic scrappy win at the Sportsground.

Team Lineups

Connacht Rugby

Leinster Rugby
Teams Darragh Leader 15 Rob Kearney
Fionn Carr 14 Zane Kirchner
Robbie Henshaw 13 Brian O'Driscoll
Eoin Griffin 12 Gordon D'Arcy
Matt Healy 11 Luke Fitzgerald
Jack Carty 10 Ian Madigan
Kieran Marmion 9 Eoin Reddan

Brett Wilkinson 1 Jack McGrath
Jason Harris-Wright 2 Sean Cronin
Nathan White 3 Martin Moore
Mick Kearney 4 Devin Toner
Craig Clarke (C) 5 Tom Denton
Andrew Browne 6 Rhys Ruddock
John Muldoon 7 Jordi Murphy
Eoin McKeon 8 Jamie Heaslip (C)

Replacements Dave Heffernan 16 Aaron Dundon
Denis Buckley 17 Jack O'Connell
Rodney Ah You 18 Mike Ross
Michael Swift 19 Mike McCarthy
George Naoupu 20
Dominic Ryan
Paul O'Donohoe 21 Isaac Boss
Dan Parks 22 Jimmy Gopperth
Tiernan O'Halloran 23 Dave Kearney

Not Considered
due to Injury
Aly Muldowney,
Dave Nolan,
Sean Henry,
Jake Heenan,
Willie Faloon,
Gavin Duffy,
Dave McSharry,
Craig Ronaldson,
Danie Poolman,
Frank Murphy,
Miah Nikora,
Kyle Tonetti

Edward Byrne,
Conor Gilsenan,
Dan Leavy,
Andrew Goodman,
Richardt Strauss,
Fergus McFadden,
Cian Healy,
Sean O'Brien
Officials Referee: George Clancy (IRFU),
Assistant Referees: Leo Colgan, Ollie Hodges (both IRFU),
Citing Commissioner: Denis Templeton (IRFU),
TMO: Jude Quinn (IRFU).

by Jim O'Connor, © 2014-01-03