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Connacht Rugby vs Leinster Rugby
Guinness Pro12 Round 20
Sportsground, Galway,
Saturday, 15th April, 19:35

Television: Live TG4

As predicted, there was a notable drop-off in intensity last week after the heroics against Wasps the week before. Leinster were patchy at best and were fortunate to escape with a win against the Ospreys, but it was a very valuable four points. It puts them nine points clear of the Ospreys in third and now they need just six points from the final three games to guarantee a home semi-final. A win against Connacht on Saturday will virtually clinch that home semi-final but Connacht will be determined to make things as hard as possible for Leinster.

Less than a year ago it was all so different when Connacht deservedly beat Leinster in the Pro12 final in Edinburgh. It was always going to be tough on Connacht to maintain the form of last season, but they've had a tough time of it this season. They had some great moments in Europe, beating Toulouse and Wasps at home, but there's been more downs than ups this season, none more so than the announcement of the impending departure of head coach Pat Lam. Perhaps their worst moment came on the day Leinster were beating Wasps. After thrashing Zebre three times this season, they lost 25-22 away in a defeat that effectively ended their hopes of a top six finish. So now Connacht's only hope of Champions Cup qualification lies in the play-off route which is far too complicated to explain here.

To their credit Connacht bounced back last week with a decent win away to Edinburgh but they have a tough run in with Leinster and Scarlets at home and then they finish up with a trip to Munster. Pat Lam will be desperate to leave on a high and he's named a team showing four changes from last week. Jack Carty starts at outhalf while Craig Ronaldson comes in at inside centre with Bundee Aki switching to the outside channel. Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham come into the front row in an otherwise unchanged pack. John Muldoon, who seems to have been playing rugby since God was a boy, makes his 300th Connacht appearance and that alone will see Connacht come out firing.

For Leinster it's once again a case of shuffling the deck ahead of next week's game away to Clermont and Leo Cullen has chosen to give most of the likely starting fifteen a week off in preparation. He's named a team showing eleven personnel changes plus a number of positional switches. Zane Kirchner moves to full back from the centre and Adam Byrne and Dave Kearney are fit to start on the wings. Rory O'Loughlin moves in from the wing to the centre where he'll partner Noel Reid and Ross Byrne and Luke McGrath form a new halfback pairing.

There's an all new front row of Cian Healy, James Tracy and Mike Ross, who will likely be making the final start of his Leinster career. Ross Molony and Hayden Triggs come into the second row and Dominic Ryan comes into the back row in what is also likely to be his last start for Leinster. Josh van der Flier is the only player from last week to retain the same jersey at openside as Rhys Ruddock moves to number eight.

It's not the strongest looking Leinster side to be frank and a well motivated Connacht team might just pull off a win tomorrow.

Team Lineups

Connacht Rugby

Leinster Rugby
Teams Tiernan O'Halloran 15 Zane Kirchner
Niyi Adeolokun 14 Adam Byrne
Bundee Aki 13 Rory O'Loughlin
Craig Ronaldson 12 Noel Reid
Danie Poolman 11 Dave Kearney
Jack Carty 10 Ross Byrne
Kieran Marmion 9 Luke McGrath

Denis Buckley 1 Cian Healy
Dave Heffernan 2 James Tracy
Finlay Bealham 3 Mike Ross
Quinn Roux 4 Ross Molony
Andrew Browne 5 Hayden Triggs
Eoin McKeon 6 Dominic Ryan
Jake Heenan 7 Josh van der Flier
John Muldoon (C) 8 Rhys Ruddock (C)

Replacements Shane Delahunt 16 Sean Cronin
JP Cooney 17 Peter Dooley
Dominic Robertson-McCoy 18 Michael Bent
Sean O'Brien 19 Ian Nagle
Naulia Dawai 20
Peadar Timmins
Caolin Blade 21 Nick McCarthy
Steve Crosbie 22 Tom Daly
Eoin Griffin 23 Barry Daly

Not Considered
Due to Injury
Tom McCartney,
Ronan Loughney,
Conor Carey,
Ultan Dillane,
Nepia Fox-Matamua,
Peter Robb,
Stacey Ili,
Matt Healy,
Cian Kelleher

Jordi Murphy,
James Ryan,
Jeremy Loughman,
Rob Kearney,
Jamie Heaslip,
Jack Conan
Officials Referee: Ian Davies (WRU, 62nd competition game),
Assistant Referees: Wayne Davies (WRU), Joy Neville (IRFU),
Citing Commissioner: Eugene Ryan (IRFU)
TMO: Neil Paterson (SRU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2017-04-14