Leinster v Connacht – 29 October 2016

“Pints?” This could be the word used quite nonchalantly as we approach the full time whistle on Saturday. The main focus on this Saturday after-all is to meet up for a catch up and a few pints. However, I feel that the call for pints in the RDS may be required for more medicinal purposes. And sure it might be just what the doctor ordered!

The match this weekend brings with it a lot of memories of last May and also January when we last visited the RDS. Both times filled with memories, good and very bad. The latest match has a different edge to it however. On one hand, Connacht are finding their mojo and desperately looking for a third win in a row against Leinster but also looking to break their RDS record and win for the first time in our hallowed fortress. Leinster on the other hand will most likely have some, if not all, of their mojo stolen from them via the clutches of the IRFU. As a result, it’s very safe to say that Connacht should be coming into this game as favourites and Leinster will be the underdogs probably for the first time at the RDS. Shocking but reasonable given the circumstances. It’s important at this juncture to point out that I will provide no excuses for a potential Leinster defeat this weekend. I am only going to present the situation that Connacht and Leinster will face and draw my opinion from the facts.

Who’ll be on the team sheet?

Lets look at Connacht first. They will be losing some players for this weekend, Ultan Dillane, Finlay Bealham, Keiron Marmion, and, and, oh wait, thats all! All big guns for Connacht of course. However, they have plenty of their squad untouched by Schmidt so you would imagine that they are in a much stronger position coming into this weekend. They’ll still have full access to Nigh Adelukeon, Bundee Aki, Tiernan O’Halloran, Cian Kelleher, Stacey Ili, John Muldoon, and the list goes on. So, Leinster need to prepare for a near full strength Connacht.

Lets see how Leinster look coming into this match. 16 Leinster players have been called up for Irish duty, that makes up exactly half of the entire squad selected by Joe Schmidt! It also adds up to well over half of the 23 players that have played for Leinster over the past two weeks. It in turn also breaks our hearts! Schmidt however mentioned that half of the squad of 32 players will be released for this weekend’s Pro12 fixtures. So, we will hopefully have around 8 players available for selection. So in essence, we’ll be without at least 8 of our best players against Connacht. With that in mind, below is what I think our match day squad will look like:

15 – Isa Nacewa

14 – Zane Kirchner

13 – Garry Ringrose

12 – Noel Reid

11 – Fergus McFadden

10 – Joey Carbery

9 – Jamison Gibson Park

1 – Cian Healy

2 – Richardt Straus

3 – Mike Ross

4 – Mick McCarthy

5 – Mick Kearney

6 – Rhys Ruddock

7 – Jordi Murphy

8 – Dan Leavy

Replacements: 16 – James Tracey , 17 – Tadhg Furlong , 18 – Michael Bent , 19 – Ian Nagle , 20 – Ross Maloney , 21 – James Heaslip , 22 – Luke McGrath , 23 – Ross Byrne

So, that leaves us without Sean O’Brien, Johnny Sexton, Robbie Henshaw, Dave Kearney, Rob Kearney, Jack McGrath, Devin Toner, and Josh Van de Flier.

I know the bench isn’t much but overall, it’s not a bad team eh? It’s certainly not too shabby. But this is a team that is not tried and tested and will be facing a very tricky opposition. It’s also a team that Pat Lam won’t be able to plan for given that a lot of the combinations haven’t performed together consistently. We’ll also be in the RDS and not the dog track, so that should be worth something, shouldn’t it? Of course it should. Well, that brings me on to my next section.

The Windy City!

What a very exciting November we have in store, Ireland will take on the All Blacks twice, and also Canada and Australia. What Irish player wouldn’t want to be part of that series? These players would do anything to get on the plane to Chicago!! Will this impact their performance this weekend? Surely not, they’re professionals aren’t they? Their focus will be on the Pro12, nothing more, right? Well, maybe. But let me give you an example of maybe why it mightn’t.

My managers in work organised a Friday night out for our team a few months ago. Bear with me!! The plan was to finish up work early, have a BBQ in one of the pubs followed by plenty of pints, lols and bants as they say here in muckerland. I remember thinking it’ll be good craic and I was very well up for it.

However, as we got nearer to the date, I realised that I actually had to do something on the Saturday. I was heading to Dublin, to watch the Pro12 final! So, I would have to take it easy on the night out as a result. Now, I still enjoyed the night, had a few pints, albeit at a very paced rate, but I couldn’t properly let loose as I knew that I’d need to be up early for the trip to Dublin the following morning. So in essence, I didn’t fully commit to the night out.

It makes me wonder if the Irish players get a similar change in focus when they’re about to play a massive inter-provincial game against their rivals, but then get called up to head to Chicago to play the World Cup champions. It’s not a direct comparison but you can see my point, how priorities change depending on what you’re more looking forward to. It would be inhuman of them not to want to protect themselves a little more.

What will win the game for us?

I think it’ll come down to how Leinster perform given the mindset of the Irish players who tog out in blue. I really think we could win this match if it was any other time than just before the Autumn Internationals. I still think it’s possible even though we’re without many big guns. The biggest problem we face, specifically with regard to the internationals that will be available this weekend is this; will they be up for it, really up for it, knowing that they need to stay fit for the International matches starting a week later? In other words, are the Leinster players ‘True Blue’ or ‘Green Envy.’ I say envy because I get the feeling that if some of those players got an injury, they’d be very envious of the other lucky player that gets to go to play the All Blacks in his place. That in itself could hamper their focus come Saturday afternoon.

So, what will win us the match? I think we’ll see a big step up for some of the less used players. These players know that they have short windows of opportunity to prove themselves to Leo Cullen. So, what better place to show your talent and put your name in the hat than a big derby match against the team that stole our Pro12 trophy!

I think Noel Reid (if picked), Joey Carbery, Dan Leavy, Isa Nacewa, Ross Maloney and Ross Byrne (if picked) will be very influential and will step up to the plate. I have a big feeling that it’s Ross Byrne’s time to shine, he’s been talked about a lot recently as being a very strong prospect to become a big out half for Leinster and perhaps Ireland. If he’s not picked, then I expect Carbery to improve even more in this match, he’s surely gunning for Paddy Jackon’s position in one of the Ireland games.

Passion will get us ahead, but hunger will win us the match.

Some stats:

  • We have a 100% record in the lineout this season
  • We won 100% of our scrums in the last three matches
  • Isa Nacewa is the top try scorer between the two sides
  • Leinster have not been defeated in the RDS since March 2014, we’ve lost only twice in the RDS since February 2013.
  • Connacht have never beaten us in the RDS
  • Connacht have scored a total of only 24 points at the RDS over the past 4 visits
  • Connacht have left the RDS scoreless on two of the last four occasions
  • Leinster has had a depleted squad due to Irish call up the last four times we’ve played Connacht in the RDS
  • According to Met Eireann, a blue storm is due to amass on Ballsbridge on Saturday afternoon

Connacht wont be under any illusions, they know we’re tough to break down and they will be hoping for more than just jammy grubbers to get them over the line. We’ll undoubtedly see a great performance from them, they’re quite fearless. However, away from home, they tend to struggle at the beginning of matches, especially if they get little possession. This is where Leinster should attack, they need to hit Connacht early and make them sweat. If we can do that, we’ll keep them in check. If we do what we did in the Pro12 final and just let them back in to play their style of rugby, we’ll lose, simple as that.

Can we win the match? Yes, it’s doable. But it’s going to come down to how the players are mentally prepared. I’ll be focusing on the Leinster players who’ve  also been selected for Ireland, we should be able to tell if they’re truly up for it or if they have one eye on the All Blacks. That will be evident after 10 minutes and I think the game will be won in that period as a result. If Leinster show up, they’ll win. If we don’t, Connacht will bask in more glory, much to the delight of the media and the adoring Connacht faithful.

Remember, Leinster is like a study mountain bike with 24 gears and able to glide smoothly on all terrains. However, given the Ireland call up, and the depleted squad, Leinster at least for this weekend is a sturdy mountain bike with 24 gears, but with a flat tyre. Sure, it can still move around but it doesn’t deliver the same performance. Connacht, although just a BMX unfortunately this season after such an incredibly successful season last year, has maybe one or two gears as a result, but with two lovely pumped up tyres with a well oiled chain ready to zip around.

Prediction: I’m going to stick my head out and say Leinster to win. One of the reasons is that we’ve seen Leinster turn a corner this season. They have addressed the attack issue and we’re beginning to see glimpses of the old Leinster we loved to watch. This has been brought about by a lot of youth stepping up their game and undoubtedly some of Lancaster’s influence. The main reason why I think we’ll win though is that I trust Cullen. I think he’s been pondering about this game for a while, how couldn’t he? He knows that Schmidt would be calling up a lot of the team for Ireland duty and he must be fully aware of how the supporters feel about Connacht coming to town. I believe that he has planned for this and has had a lot of young lads training with the senior squad recently in order to be prepared for this weekend.

Leinster 22, Connacht 18.

Pints? I’ll drink to that!

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