Friday, September 19, 2014

Preview - Connacht v Leinster

All the talk of voting this week had me wondering what would happen if a poll were taken about Irish fans' favourite rugby province.

Obviously if it were done the "simple" or "first-past-the-post" way it would probably be a close contest between Leinster, Munster & Ulster for top slot due to sheer numbers but if we used a method closer to that not-so-simple one we use in Irish elections, I reckon Connacht would come out on top as they'd get the vast majority of "second preferences".

There's nothing too controversial in what I said above is there?  Who said sport and politics can't mix? ;-)

Anywho...that's how I reckon most non-Connacht supporting Irish fans feel about the province...we genuinely want them to do well, just so long as they don't hurt our team when we come a-knockin!

But Leinster fans know all too well that we can definitely finish second best at the Sportsground, and even at the RDS last season it took a late penalty try for us to nick the spoils.

All this of course comes before we mention that Pat Lam's men have 2 wins from 2 under their belts after toppling both the Dragons and Embra and they are currently the highest-ranked Irish province in the Pro12.

No offence to those two clubs mentioned above, but most realists would say that tonight's contest represents Connacht's first big test of the new campaign, especially with the champions on a high from last week and sending a side with even more internationals involved.

But before we look at Matt O'Connor's selection, I first want to look at the home side's centre-pairing.

Sure, I will have my Leinster hat on watching this contest but the Irish one can never be far away and no, I'm not JUST talking about Robbie Henshaw here.

Yes, this will be his first chance in a long time to show a national audience what he can do in the 13 jumper but at the same time I'm also a big fan of Dave McSharry at 12, particularly defensively, and I reckon if the Westerners are going to thwart their illustrious visitors tonight it will be mostly due to that tandem.

This leads me to what I feel may be the weak link in Leinster's side, and unfortunately that means Brendan Macken.  Now...perhaps "weak" is a bad choice of words.  I don't think he played that poorly against the Scarlets, but I did feel he needed a bit more belief in himself especially when carrying.  His matchup with Henshaw could decide the contest, or at least the early stages.

Because wearing the number 22 jumper on the bench for Leinster we have a certain Mr Gordon W D'Arcy.  With all the speculation about the Irish 13 jersey, to name Darce on the bench is a wonderful teaser for us.  Is he there to replace Mads?  Or will Mads go to 10 and Darce to 12?  Or will it be a straight swap for Macken?

Of course injuries may dictate what actually happens on the night but I'm sure O'Connor has a specific plan in mind so hopefully we'll get to see what it is at some stage.

Another thing that will intrigue me is our offensive style.  Yes, it was much improved last Saturday from the week before in Glasgow but was that a case of an actual improvement or are we playing one way at home and another away from Ballsbridge?  If we resort to the "pass-pass-cut inside-repeat" style in the early stages my head will be buried in my hands.

In the pack there are a couple of changes but none of them bad.  You can never feel bad about the name Rhys Ruddock being added to your lineup and although I feel Dom Dyan has excelled in the 6 jumper so far this season, the move over to 7 will be no bother to him nor Leinster.

And as for the front row, well what an embarrassment of riches we have.  Bryan Byrne has slotted in nicely in his two cameos so far as has Tadhg Furlong and with Cian "Angry Man" Healy set to join them off the bench the scrum could well be a strong platform for us tonight.

It's an age-old story.  On paper, Leinster should win.  But even the new artificial surface at Donnybrook isn't made of paper.  Keith Wood pointed out during the week that Pat Lam is "talking the talk and his players are walking".  They won't fear Leinster tonight, and if they can get off to a good start, even without their new southern hemisphere recruits they have plenty of talent to see it through, especially with a partisan crowd behind them.

Still, I'm inclined to go for a Leinster victory, though not by more than 7 points and certainly not with a try bonus. JLP

LEINSTER : 15. Rob Kearney 14. Fergus McFadden 13. Brendan Macken 12. Ian Madigan 11. Darragh Fanning 10. Jimmy Gopperth 9. Isaac Boss
1. Jack McGrath 2. Sean Cronin 3. Mike Ross 4. Devin Toner 5. Mike McCarthy 6. Rhys Ruddock 7. Dominic Ryan 8. Jamie Heaslip CAPTAIN
Replacements 16. Bryan Byrne 17. Cian Healy 18. Tadhg Furlong 19. Tom Denton 20. Shane Jennings 21. Eoin Reddan 22. Gordon D'Arcy 23. Mick McGrath

CONNACHT : 15. Darragh Leader 14. Niyi Adeolokun 13. Robbie Henshaw 12. Dave McSharry 11. Danie Poolman 10. Jack Carty 9. Kieran Marmion
1. Denis Buckley 2. Dave Heffernan 3. Nathan White 4. Aly Muldowney 5. Quinn Roux 6. John Muldoon © 7. Willie Faloon 8. Eoin McKeon
Replacements: 16. Shane Delahunt 17. Ronan Loughney 18. Rodney Ah You 19. Mick Kearney 20. George Naoupu 21. Ian Porter 22. Craig Ronaldson 23. Matt Healy

At Sportsground, 7.35PM. Live on TG4
Referee: John Lacey (IRFU)
Assistant Referees: Eddie Hagan-O'Connell, Olly Hodges (both IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: John Cole (IRFU)
TMO: Seamus Flannery (IRFU)


Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019