Now here’s a fixture that will get the blood flowing! Long gone are the days were Leinster would head to the West of Ireland with an almost guaranteed win on the horizon. The last few meetings have certainly changed that outlook and ever since Connacht defeated Leinster in the Pro12 final in 2016, a strong rivalry has been developing ever since. Being a Dublin man living in Galway, I get reminded of that faithful day for Connacht and it still hurts, but it makes this particular inter-provincial encounter more exciting each year as a result!
I remember the days of heading to the Sportsground in the noughties and there wouldn’t be huge crowds like there is today, but there was always something special about the atmosphere and the pure passion expressed both from the players in green on the pitch and the supporters on the sideline. That has just increased in intensity over the last 10 years and it’s a credit to Connacht that they are being rewarded for their exciting brand of rugby by getting the go ahead for development of their stadium, and getting close to sell out attendances each time they play at home. The organisers at the Sportsground have installed extra stands for the increasing volume of spectators for this weekend, and I can only imagine many more kegs of Heino will be brought in to appease the Leinster fans, I for one will be there and will certainly ensure plenty of Ken is purchased! 😉
Following a World Cup which most of us will want to forget, we may be reminded of it when we see both teams entering the field of play tomorrow evening. There are several Irish internationals coming back into the match day squads who will be chomping at the bit to get a win under their belt following their World Cup woes, and also to get themselves in contention for Heineken Cup selection next week!
Below is the team to take on Connacht:
15. Hugo Keenan (9)
14. Adam Byrne (54)
13. Robbie Henshaw (37)
12. Joe Tomane (17)
11. James Lowe (33)
10. Ross Byrne (75)
9. Luke McGrath (113)
1. Cian Healy (208)
2. Rónan Kelleher (6)
3. Andrew Porter (53)
4. Devin Toner (235)
5. Scott Fardy (47) CAPTAIN
6. Josh Murphy (25)
7. Will Connors (8)
8. Max Deegan (51)
16. James Tracy (97)
17. Ed Byrne (45)
18. Michael Bent (129)
19. Ross Molony (87)
20. Rhys Ruddock (161)
21. Jamison Gibson-Park (75)
22. Ciarán Frawley (15)
23. Rob Kearney (210)
There are a few internationals returning to the side; Henshaw, Mc Grath, Healy, Porter and Toner. Another four on the bench, Tracy, Bent, Rudduck and R Kearney. Not a bad selection given the upcoming Champions Cup campaign next week.
There aren’t many weaknesses in this squad, potentially 6-8 are probably the most vulnerable in terms of our best quality, but these young lads are being rewarded for their strong performances in recent weeks. Scott Fardy will captain the side and Lowe retains his his jersey following a brace of tries against Dragons last weekend. Henshaw returns at centre and will undoubtedly receive a very warm welcome from the stands!!
Connacht have pretty much selected their strongest team for this match, a huge sign on intent. Their bench in particular could be very dangerous with Marmion and Aki lying in wait. Hopefully the strength on the Leinster bench will be able to pack it’s own punch too, with Ruddock, Gibson-Park and Rob Kearney ready to bring their great skills and experience into the field of play.
Where the match will be won
If Connacht’s game against the Cheetahs from two weeks ago tells us anything, this Connacht team never give up, they have the fitness and hunger to play the full 80 and beyond to get a win, and take down big teams at their home ground with no fear. Tom Farrell’s 84th minute try ensured Connacht would come away victorious with a bonus point on the night. The determination shown from Connacht by refusing a penalty which would have given them a draw was incredible, and was great to see that former Leinster academy player get the match winning try……… sorry, couldn’t resist!
Leinster will need to come to the Sportsground with an 80 minute game plan to stop Connacht’s determined squad of doing the same. I strongly feel that Leinster will need to be leading this game by more than 7 points close to full time if they want to win the match. On the other hand, Leinster’s defensive displays so far this season have been rock solid so I wont expect too many Connacht players to cross the whitewash.
There is a lot of rain forecast for the match so expect the game to involve a lot of thrills and potential spills. I reckon both sides will aim to keep with their recent approaches of throwing the ball around and aiming for tries, regardless of the conditions. I also wouldn’t be surprised if we see a lot of territorial combat from box kicks and kicking for touch, especially in the first 20-30 mins of the first half. The 10, 15, and 9 players will be utilised most as a result, so they will need to be on song for the duration of the match as one wrong move, a dropped aerial ball, or missed kick to touch could have massive ramifications on the result.
Connacht’s form coming into this match has been very impressive. They are getting back to their expansive and free flowing style of play, a credit to their coaching under Andy Friend. They will be looking to put on massive pressure early on and use the weather conditions to force some errors on Leinster. As mentioned earlier, there’ll be no let up from this Connacht team who have not lost at home in 2019. Leinster on the other hand will be coming into this match with 5 wins from 5 in the Pro14 and surely confident of their abilities. My cheeky prediction is that Leinster will score first off the boot and utilise their strong maul to get over for a try in the first half. Leinster are incredible defenders so I don’t expect many tries to be scored against us, and with the likes of Lowe and Byrne on either wing, I think more chances of scoring will come from the boys in blue.
Leinster have won two out of their last four trips to the Sportsground, I think a close hard fought win will come the champion’s way.
Connacht 13 – Leinster 20
Match day result: Connacht 11 – Leinster 42