Leinster v Connacht – Champions Cup Round 16 (second leg) preview

Here we go again, our 4th game against Connacht in 4 months! How have Leinster fared? Well, it’s currently 3 nil to Leinster, albeit the first two games delivering a hammering, and the most previous being a 5 point nervy win!

This is the second leg of the Round 16 stage of the Champions Cup. Leinster come into this game 5 points up in terms of aggregate score. This is not a bad result for Connacht given that almost everyone, including myself, felt it would be a comprehensive win for the boys in blue out west at the Sportsground last week. Instead, Connacht fronted up and rose up to give Leinster a fierce challenge in front of their home supporters. Today however, Connacht are the ones travelling, this time to the Aviva where Leinster will be relishing the opportunity to proceed in this competition to the quarter final stage.

There was an article written yesterday in the 42 about Connacht taking on the Irish team that defeated the All Blacks last year. Needless to say, any rugby fan bar Leinster were not impressed, but I personally enjoyed it and it gave me a little chuckle. Indeed, there are a lot of familiar players in today’s Leinster squad that played a big part in that victory and you’d be foolish to think that the sheer volume of talent that will pull on the blue jersey today will not be a formidable challenge for any team, let alone Connacht! Like last week, Connacht are very much up against the wall, they will have to produce some special to win the game. It sometimes can feel condescending or arrogant to talk up Leinster, especially when facing another Irish provincial team, but you have to just look at the starting lineup for Leinster and truly realise the absolute filthiness of talent, experience, power, skill and belief that they bring to the table. Not convinced, well take a look!

Here is the team selection from Cullen & Co.:

15. Hugo Keenan
14. Jimmy O’Brien
13. Garry Ringrose
12. Robbie Henshaw
11. James Lowe
10. Johnny Sexton CAPTAIN
9. Jamison Gibson-Park

1. Andrew Porter
2. Rónan Kelleher
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Ross Molony
5. Josh Murphy
6. Caelan Doris
7. Josh van der Flier
8. Jack Conan


16. Dan Sheehan
17. Ed Byrne
18. Michael Ala’alatoa
19. Devin Toner
20. Rhys Ruddock
21. Luke McGrath
22. Ross Byrne
23. Ciarán Frawley

You see what I mean? There’s 12 internationals starting, with 7 more on the bench. The others non-internationals include Josh Murphy, Ross Malony, Jimmy O’Brien and Ciaran Frawley, which let’s face it, are very accomplished players within the squad! There’s just 3 changes to the team that headed west bound last week; Porter returns which is just a massive boost whether it’s in loose play, at the set piece and scrum. Kelleher too also returns which will give Leinster more cohesion and options when it comes to the lineout and maul. Gibson Park moves back into the starting 15 with Mc Grath taking the bench spot this weekend. This move in particular is quite interesting as Gibson Park arguably injects more pace into our attack so I predict a faster flowing attacking plan from Leinster throughout the first half which was somewhat lacking last time round.

Where the game will be won
Last weekend was Connacht’s best chance to overturn Leinster. If they had have, a lot of doubt would have been put into the minds of the Leisnter players and coaching staff. They failed to do that even though I’m sure the scoreline was a little concerning for the away team. However, since that game, you can be sure that Leinster understand that they can improve and increase their intensity to another level whereas Connacht pretty much threw everything they can and probably cannot improve that much, which is a credit to them, they performed incredibly well throughout.

Connacht will know that they need to improve and try something new to hopefully cause problems for Leinster. They attacked so hard last week from the off that it almost rattled Leinster, resulting in a very early try. Connacht will need to apply that same pressure again but for a full 80 minutes. Of course, that’s a big ask given Connacht’s overall form of late but we can see that they are more than capable of it. What they will need to do that is a rock solid leadership structure that keeps everyone calm, focused and hungry. They will need to know that there must be a few tricks up Leinster’s sleeve that will be equally deployed in an effort to disrupt the Connacht structure, so cool heads will be key.

Leinster need to keep their basic error count to a minimum and be a lot more clinical in the Connacht half. You could see last week that Leinster arguably left a few scores out there that would have buried Connacht early in the second half and at the end of the game. Each time Leinster failed to keep calm and structured in attack, leading to eventual errors or turnovers, you could see the tails go up on the Connacht side. Leinster must keep Connacht humble and pin them back as much as possible. I feel that Sexton will be pivotal in that regard, more so that he was last time.

Last week, both sides knew the importance of going for the posts to keep the scoreboard ticking over when you would normally expect them to go for the corner and have a go. Reason being, the two leg nature of this playoff, every single point has a massive impact on the return leg. Now that we’re here, the shackles will come off and both sides will most certainly target tries and look to be a lot less conservative with decision making. I think this could be an advantage for both sides as they like to run the ball and send it out wide, coast to coast. It’ll be a dry evening so that type of game will suit both sides. Playing with pace and accuracy will be the winning of this match.

I’m expecting a shock win from Connacht this week, they just have the measure of this Leinster side. Of course however, I am joking! Just like last week, I think Leinster will just have too much in their tank for Connacht to live with. Yes, the scoreline was very close but I don’t see that happening this week. There’ll be some ups and downs potentially some heated tussles but Leinster know exactly how to win these big games with playoff places on offer. I expect Connacht to perform with a high level of aggression and play the type of game they have shocked some big teams with over the season, but I equally expect Leinster to do the same. There may have been some rustiness in this Leinster selection last week so I think we’ll get a much more cohesive and clinical performance from the boys in blue this evening. My cheeky prediction is that Leinster will score first and not lose their lead from then on. This is Leinster after all; arrogant maybe, warranted absolutely!

Leinster 39 – Connacht 16

Match day result: Leinster 56 – Connacht 20 (Aggregate score: Leinster 82 – Connacht 41)

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