The superlatives keep coming for Leinster, after they ground their way to a ninth successive win this season with a festive victory over Munster, and the question is fast becoming – can anyone stop them?
Connacht are the latest contenders to step up to the plate but the task at hand is steep, very few go into the RDS Arena and emerge victorious.
The Conference A leaders still have a perfect record and can equal their best-ever start to a campaign with victory on Saturday, their previous best coming when they won all ten games to take the trophy during the 2001/02 season.
Leo Cullen has rung the changes from that Munster win, including naming an entirely new Leinster back-line – Luke McGrath and Ciarán Frawley the half-backs with Joe Tomane returning from injury to partner Garry Ringrose in the centres and Dave Kearney, Fergus McFadden and Jordan Larmour making up the back-three.
Connacht, meanwhile, are struggling for form having won just one of their last four Guinness PRO14 fixtures and will also need to overcome history if they are to triumph – having not beaten their opponents in Dublin since 2002.
Lock Niall Murray will make his first start for the province and will be joined in the engine room by Gavin Thornbury, who returns from an arm injury that has sidelined him since October.
— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) January 3, 2020
Kick-off: 17:30, RDS Arena
How to watch: Live on eir Sport 1, Premier Sports 2, SuperSport 1, DAZN, pro14.tv
Players to watch out for: Dave Kearney (Leinster); Paul Boyle (Connacht)
It’s fair to say Leinster winger Dave Kearney has been incredibly prolific so far this season – his record of five tries in just three PRO14 appearances is testament to that.
He looks set to be part of new Ireland coach Andy Farrell’s plans moving forward after being included in the 45-man ‘stock-take’ last month and Connacht will need to be wary of his finishing ability at the RDS.
For the visitors, back-rower Paul Boyle has been a tackling and carrying machine this season, having toted the ball 87 times so far – third-most in the league – and completing the fourth-most tackles, with 109.
He will need to get through plenty more work if Connacht are to slow down the Leinster juggernaut in Dublin.
Key stat: Leinster’s most recent defeat at home to a fellow Irish province was to Munster at the Aviva Stadium in October 2014.
Leinster Rugby: Jordan Larmour; Fergus McFadden, Garry Ringrose, Joe Tomane, Dave Kearney; Ciarán Frawley, Luke McGrath; Peter Dooley, Sean Cronin, Tadhg Furlong, Ross Molony, James Ryan, Rhys Ruddock (Capt), Will Connors, Max Deegan.
Replacements: Bryan Byrne, Ed Byrne, Roman Salanoa, Ryan Baird, Caelan Doris, Jamison Gibson-Park, Harry Byrne, Cian Kelleher.
Connacht Rugby: Stephen Fitzgerald, Niyi Adeolokun, Kyle Godwin, Tom Daly, John Porch, Conor Fitzgerald, Caolin Blade (Capt): Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Niall Murray, Gavin Thornbury, Eoghan Masterson, Paul Boyle, Robin Copeland.
Replacements: Tom McCartney, Paddy McAllister, Conor Kenny, Joe Maksymiw, Sean Masterson, Stephen Kerins, David Horwitz, Tiernan O’Halloran
Leinster’s winning streak in this season’s Guinness PRO14 showed no signs of stopping as they produced a sensational display against Connacht.
Max Deegan and Garry Ringrose both scored twice as Leo Cullen’s men ran in eight tries and inflicted Connacht’s fifth defeat of the season.
With ten victories in their opening ten matches of this campaign, Leinster have equalled their best-ever start which they had in 2001/02 when they took home the trophy.
Leinster got off to a flying start when with less than two minutes on the clock Deegan had dotted down after some neat work by Peter Dooley with Ciaran Frawley adding the extras.
The onslaught had begun, and Connacht couldn’t do much to hold off the defending champions as in-form Dave Kearney was next to put on his try-scoring boots.
Frawley scored one of his own less than three minutes later, assisted by Deegan, and Joe Tomane secured the bonus-point at the end of the first quarter.
Luke McGrath added a fifth before Deegan scored his second of the match just before the break.
Early in the second half, Deegan was involved once more gliding his way around Connacht’s stricken defenders and offloading to Ringrose who scored under the posts.
Connacht finally got themselves some points when Tom McCartney dotted down for his fourth try of the season, after the visitors worked their maul effectively.
But in the closing stages Ringrose had the last word adding to his tally and rounding off a thumping win.
It was a captain’s performance from the flanker as he led from the front and carried out his leadership superbly.
A day when he did all his fundamentals well, having 11 carries to his name, which allowed his team to perform at their scintillating best.
With nine tries to choose from, there was plenty of attacking flair on show as Leinster ran riot.
The pick of the bunch was Garry Ringrose’s first with Max Deegan gliding past defenders and offloading to the Irish international, who still had work to do, but finished off the move to score under the posts.