Friday, December 03, 2021

Preview : Leinster v Connacht

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Six day turnarounds are never ideal, especially when your next opposition has an extra day of rest, but like most things, this can be spun another way. The way things went for us against our northern cousins last Saturday, what better way to make amends than to get back out onto the same pitch as soon as possible.

I didn't want to point it out at the time but James Hume's late interception try bore an eerie resemblance to that poached by Tom Daly as the clock was ticking down the last time Connacht were in town, but it's worth mentioning now as it offers a stark reminder that nothing can be taken for granted as Andy Friend, Jack Carty & co will rightly have no fear coming to our house for a second time this calendar year.

But since I reckon our biggest problems in both of the above outings were on our side of the ball, specifically our inability to cope with out opposition putting it up to us from the kickoff, then the task for Leinster is pretty clear on Friday evening. Of course nothing can be taken for granted, but if we don't play from the kickoff like a team gunning to be at least still top of the URC table at the end of the weekend, I don't see how we can hope to launch an assault on that 5th star this season.

No doubt the name that jumps off the Leinster team sheet is that of Harry Byrne at 10. I was assuming he'd get the start as he has had precious little game time this season in blue (almost has the same amount in green) but what's interesting here is the backline he has at his disposal.

With Jamison Gibson-Park still fighting back to fitness, and of course Luke McGrath not only a more than capable start but also our team captain yet again, this is pretty much Leinster's elite set behind the scrum so Harry's role at 10 will need to be very different to what he will have gotten used to.

Even thought the multiple creative options like Ciarán Frawley at 12 and Jimmy O'Brien at 15 didn't really work for us last weekend, they have before when Harry has started but now he has to be able to check himself and use those around him wisely without trying to take too much upon himself.

Going into the pack for a bit, it's pretty much a top to bottom change with only Toner in the same position and Ruddock the only other returning start, shifting from 8 to 6. But those deputising are far from shabby, with Cian Healy starting at loose head, Dan Sheehan fresh off his Ireland bow, and JVDF and Doris hoping to carry on where they left off in November.

But it's on the wing where all the buzz has to be coming from in these lineups. During the week I had Connacht fan Padraig "@the2ndrow" Kelly on the podcast (along with Ulster fan Ian "@rava_ian" Frizzell) and when talking of Connacht's win over Ospreys last weekend, I imagined what it would look like to someone who had heard of Mack Hansen yet hadn't seen him in action yet.

Not only did it take the guy less than two minutes to get his name on the scoresheet, he was far from idle before dotting down as he contributed a catch, a big hit and a couple of strong carries in the build up. That's just a sample of the kind of x factor he has been bringing to the Westies this season. If only we had someone from the southern hemisphere that's Irish qualified who played with the same amount of confidence....oh, wait...

The prospect of having players like Hansen and James Lowe on the same pitch is a mouth-watering one any time, but when both are in the top of their form and likely to be keen to out "You Tube moment" each other, well that surely has to be worth the price of admission all on its own.

Something else Padraig was mentioning was the fact that Friend's Connacht tends to be much more willing to tailor their performances to the opposition than Lam's was, and I reckon they'll definitely need to do just that here, with Harry Byrne probably the starting point of their attention. Plus, they have had their troubles with being clinical with possession from 5 to 10 metres out, so our defending, which was one of our few decent areas last week, will be needed again to shut them down.

I can see a lot of similarities between the way Ulster played and what Connacht need to do, in that scoring points themselves won't be nearly as important as keeping our side of the board dormant for as long as possible. Like I said, how Harry's decision making reacts to early adversity will be the key to this encounter. It's not that I have no faith in this Leinster bench, it's just I have complete faith in our opponents' ability to grow in confidence the longer this match stays close.

My eyebrow hasn't shot up at a bookies spread for this matches in a while, but it sure did this week. Leinster by 17? Let me be clear, we definitely CAN put up a margin like that, only I thought the same the last time I penned a preview. But if I were Andy Friend I might just limit my pre-match team talk to saying "seventeen points" over and over and let the lads do the rest.

Obviously I'd be hoping for maximum points but the way things are going, something like "just" two or three tries combined with a strong defensive display would be enough to send me home happy. I'll go for a 9-11 point margin while thinking maybe even that is too much, with the Byrne brothers combining well enough over the 80 minutes for us to feel good about our overall options at 10 for Europe.

As always be sure to say hi if you see me at the RDS, follow me on the twitter machine throughout the match, and head over to the Facebook page at full time to leave your thoughts. Here's to the boys in blue getting things back on track. JLP


United Rugby Championship 2021/22 - Round 7
Friday, December 3, 2021
KO 7:45pm
RDS Arena

Referee: Chris Busby (IRFU)
AR 1: Eoghan Cross (IRFU) 
AR 2: Oisin Quinn (IRFU)
TMO: Olly Hodges (IRFU)

Live on: TG4, Premier Sports 2 & URC TV.


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