Friday, December 19, 2014

Preview : Leinster v Connacht


TEN POINTS???  You bookies for real???  

That's the kind of points spread Pat Lam will love to stick up on his dressing room wall at the RDS tonight.  But he doesn't doesn't even need that to fire up his troops, does he?

Let's not kid ourselves...everyone in the rugby world who isn't a Leinster fan will be shouting for Connacht tonight.  Hey I'd be shouting for them myself if I followed any other club.

But I don't - as you may have noticed over the years of me harping on I'm Leinster through and through and despite all the uncertainty I think we can get a result tonight and everything we need to do that is right up here.

Wait - you can't see me tapping my own head right now, can you?  Maybe I should have thought that through a bit more....

But I am serious...how we approach this match will go a long way towards what we get out of it.  First, however, let's see who we're up against.

Naturally their most eye-catching name in the Connacht lineup is that of Mils Muliaina - but don't forget, they didn't need him to beat us back in September.  What they needed was 80 minutes of solid D, one piece of Marmion brilliance and a litany of Leinster errors.

And even with all of that, they only beat us by the one point.  So call me simplistic but I'm thinking that if we can remove the errors from that equation, we stand a decent chance.

In the backs, we have one of the most potent combinations we have seen in blue all season.  For all the doom and gloom surrounding Leinster's European form Luke Fitzgerald was outstanding at 13 while Zane Kirchner and the Kearney brothers need little introduction either.

But first the ball must get to them.

In the pack, there are several names returning to the lineup but in some ways that is the problem.  We badly need cohesion at every breakdown, scrum, lineout and even restart and with 5 of last week's starting 8 different, they certainly need to hit the ground running.

Sean Cronin's power has been confined to the bench but with Locky and Jennings on the park I'd say Jamie will be set to take up that slack.  This leaves our front row of Bent, Dundon and Furlong to focus on the basics and we badly need them to get it right.

Then, assuming we win the ball, we need to link up with that backline and the fact that Eoin Reddan grabbed last Saturday's match by the scruff of the neck will hopefully show Isaac Boss exactly what we'll need tonight.

As for Jimmy Gopperth, well all I can say is we just need a flaw-free night from him.  That's all.  But my biggest worry in the Leinster lineup is at 12.

Not that I have anything against Noel Reid overall...he has done a lot better for the full Leinster side than I thought he would as he came up through the ranks but particularly on the defensive side of things, Connacht may see him as our principle weakness.

Put it this way...barring injury, I reckon the later Gordon D'Arcy is introduced, the better we're doing.

Judging from what Matt O'Connor has been saying, there won't be any dramatic changes to our style any time soon.  For me, that's a shame, not just because I'd rather see us play more attacking rugby, but also because we'll need tries when we get back to Europe.

Back in 2013 we badly needed five-pointers from our final two Heineken Cup pool matches and we warmed up for this with a comfortable win at Edinburgh where we kicked every penalty to the corner and got the four-try bonus.  Turned out it wasn't enough in Europe, but we did get maximum pool points from our final two matches.

This time around, maybe, just maybe we can hope that the lads have something similar in mind for our trip to Cardiff in the New Year and for the next three rounds of interpros we'll play it safe.

Anyway...I'm straying away from the subject matter at hand.  I know there will be the usual reaction to another "ugly" win tonight but to be perfectly honest if you offered me three of those right now in our upcoming interpros I'd have them taken off you before you could wrap them.

I'm optimistic enough that we'll win but pessimistic enough that we won't reach the spread.  Leinster by 5-7, but only if they managed to bottle whatever Reddan was on last weekend and there's enough to go round our dressing room.

Taking the Leinster goggles off for a second, it's great to see a matchup like this be so competitive and in actual fact with Glasgow v Munster and Ospreys v Ulster to come this could be a very exciting round in the Pro12.

Sadly I can't make the RDS tonight so enjoy it for me and get the place hopping!  

#COYBIB JLP

LEINSTER : 15. Rob Kearney 14. Zane Kirchner 13. Luke Fitzgerald 12. Noel Reid 11. Dave Kearney 10. Jimmy Gopperth 9. Isaac Boss
1. Michael Bent 2. Aaron Dundon 3. Tahdg Furlong 4. Devin Toner 5. Kane Douglas 6. Kevin McLaughlin 7. Shane Jennings 8. Jamie Heaslip CAPTAIN
16. Sean Cronin 17. Jack McGrath 18. Maks Van Dyk 19. Jack Conan 20. Jordi Murphy 21. Luke McGrath 22. Cathal Marsh 23. Gordon D'Arcy

CONNACHT : 15. Mils Muliaina 14. Danie Poolman 13. Robbie Henshaw 12. Bundee Aki 11. Matt Healy 10. Jack Carty 9. Kieran Marmion
1. Denis Buckley 2. Tom McCartney 3. Rodney Ah You 4. Quinn Roux 5. Aly Muldowney 6. John Muldoon>(captain) 7. Eoin McKeon 8. George Naoupu
Replacements: 16. Dave Heffernan 17. Ronan Loughney 18. Finlay Bealham 19. Ultan Dillane 20. Willie Faloon 21. Caolin Blade 22. Craig Ronaldson 23. Darragh Leader

Guinness PRO12  -  RDS
Kick Off: 7.35pm - live on TG4 and RTÉ 2FM
Referee: Ian Davies (WRU, 23rd competition game)
Assistant Referees: Leo Colgan, Andy Brace (both IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: Peter Ferguson (IRFU)

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