Friday, March 25, 2022

Preview : Connacht v Leinster




Just a few weeks ago, Leinster & Ireland rugby fans were treated to a brilliant Saturday evening double header, with Ireland playing England in Twickenham and Leinster taking on Ulster up in Belfast.

I dare say most fans who had an interest in both yet were unable to travel managed to find the time to watch both. Hopefully those same fans will be able to do likewise this coming Saturday as they will have almost exactly the same feast to savour.

Please, please, PLEASE be sure to get behind the Irish women's team as they start their Six Nations campaign against Wales at the RDS. It kicks off at 4:45pm and from what I learned in my chat with @IrishWomens in the podcast during the week it promises to be the start of an exciting period for the new-look squad.

And like I often say on these pages, I'd love to have the time to give them more coverage here but there's still plenty out there, follow the #TikTokW6N hashtag to keep tabs on the tournament, and best wishes to Greg, Niamh, Nichola and all the squad over the next seven weeks.

Now to look at this clash in the Sportsground, and first we need to put it in context, and there's a lot of it.

When it comes to Leinster's URC campaign, it is very important that we get points from this. While of course it's great to be sitting atop the latest table, the fact that our four matches after this consist of a trip to play two ever-improving South African teams as well as home and away dates with Munster, nothing about our eventual playoff position is certain.

And when you look at it through an "interpro" lens, this represents the first in an unprecedented trilogy of fixtures between these two over the coming weeks, with this clash being the prequel to the two-legged Champions Cup last 16 pairing.

But from a view of the actual Leinster squad itself, this match may well represent the last chance for many players who have featured over the past couple of months to impress the coaches enough for them to still be involved when we really get to the "business end" of the season.

So let's have a look at how the 23 is shaping up shall we...

BACKS

It's pretty clear that Leo's plan going into this block of matches without test players was to build the backline around a centre pairing of Ciaran Frawley and Jamie Osborne, with Jimmy O'Brien providing more creativity in the back three and the Byrne brothers toggling the outhalf duties.

Unfortunately injuries have meant we had to go with different combinations over that time, but while Harry B did well in the 12 jersey it's good to see Frawley back available again and while overall it is a young group from 11-15, all have proven themselves already at this level, including defensively where they are likely to be mostly tested on Saturday.

When it comes to creating chances we are going to need to force the tempo and use the footballing skills to keep our hosts pinned in their territory as much as possible, and we'll also be hoping the Galway gusts behave to an extent where we can get the most out of Osborne's famed left boot when required.

FORWARDS

I like this pack - as a unit in open play around the pitch there is a nice blend of all the right skills, with Joe McCarthy's name looking very comfortable in the lineup after a series of impressive displays since his debut.

My one concern is our lineout. Nothing will work for this team without it and I'm sure the Connacht coaches won't need my preview to learn they should plan to target it. We're good at working our way into the 22, we're good at converting a chance in the 22 into the score, but often what comes in between is hitting the dart and the much needed match points in this match could rely on us getting it right.

Also I can't go without saying when Scott Penny and Max Deegan are in the same XV, actually strike that, the same matchday squad...you'd be mad not to at least bet on one of them finding the tryline in this league.

BENCH

Much of our success with internationals away this season has stemmed from an ability to get a strong defensive showing from our bench in the final quarter and it's very likely we'll be needing that on Saturday. And while most of the forwards on our bench here played a part in that success, we do seem a bit light in the backs.

That's not to say Nick McCarthy, David Hawkshaw (one of several boys in blue in this 23 heading west next season btw) and potential debutant Chris Cosgrove can't do the same job it's just the confidence levels going into the fixture won't be as high as usual so it's up to them to prove me wrong.

OPPOSITION

When it comes to things like silverware and playing talent pool of course Leinster would normally be considered favourites whenever these two come together. But one thing you can never say about Connacht is that they fear us no matter what the odds, even factoring in a heavy defeat against Edinburgh last time out. They know how to not only beat us but also to play us off the park whether it's in Galway, at the RDS or even in a major domestic final with full squads available.

And with a half pack pairing with the talent and experience of Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty pulling the strings, you can guarantee the Westies will be planning to bring the play to us from the kickoff, with powerful centres in the Two Toms more than capable to breaking through even a stingy defence like ours has been.

In the pack we see Cian Prendergast, who has really caught the eye this season at lock, moving across to 6 to show his versatility and long with Oliver and Butler will make for a real tussle at the breakdown with our own backrow.

They've a strong bench as well with the likes of Dillane, Boyle, Blade and Arnold all well able to start so while this should go without saying anyway, we definitely need a full 80 minute display to get anything from this fixture.

PREDICTION

Even given the fact that Connacht's 23 is much, much closer to that which they're likely to field in the HCC than ours, the bookies still have us as 6-point favourites and while I can see a path to our getting that result, I'm still bound by the thought I had once I realised these two teams were going to meet 3 times in 4 weeks.

If we were to come out of the series having won all three matches, I would be shouting it from the rooftops as it would be some achievement, but I don't believe that's what's going to happen. Chances are we'll drop one, and this has to be the biggest candidate. Both teams are just off a defeat but Connacht's was much bigger and definitely not like them this season, one thing I've noted about them is that whatever the position of a match they can hit you with 10-14 points in the space of just a couple of minutes.

And even though our defence has been the best in the league so far this season, this will be a stern test for it and unless we're able to get a strong 70+ minutes from our entire backline, we could struggle in the last half hour so for this one I'm going to go for a home win, albeit a low scoring one with a margin of about 4-6 points.

GET INVOLVED IN THE DISCUSSION

Like I say if you can't make it to this or the Irish Women's match be sure to set aside time to watch both on Saturday evening and as you do why not check in on the social media where I'll be doing my usual harping on Twitter while the action is happening and at the end of the match in Galway, head on over to the Facebook page and leave your thoughts. Here's to a pair of victories to celebrate! JLP

Connacht : 15. Tiernan O’Halloran 14. John Porch 13. Tom Farrell 12. Tom Daly 11. Oran McNulty 10. Jack Carty > (C) 9. Kieran Marmion
1. Denis Buckley 2. Dave Heffernan 3. Jack Aungier 4. Oisin Dowling 5. Niall Murray 6. Cian Prendergast 7. Conor Oliver 8. Jarrad Butler
Replacements 16. Jonny Murphy 17. Matthew Burke 18. Greg McGrath 19. Ultan Dillane 20. Paul Boyle 21. Caolin Blade 22. Sammy Arnold 23. Diarmuid Kilgallen.

United Rugby Championship 2021/22 - Round 14
Saturday, March 26, 2022
KO 7:35pm
Sportsground

Referee: Chris Busby (IRFU)
AR 1: Eoghan Cross (IRFU) 
AR 2: Peter Martin (IRFU)
TMO: Leo Colgan (IRFU)

Live on: RTÉ2, Premier Sports 1, SuperSport & URC TV

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