Connacht may have catapulted back into form in recent weeks but centre Bundee Aki insists there was never any talk of crisis at the Sportsground.
Leinster will meet Connacht for the first time since Pat Lam’s men triumphed at BT Murrayfield in last season’s Guinness Pro12 Final – though home form is very much on Leinster’s side.
The Leinstermen are unbeaten at home in 18 matches and have only lost twice to fellow Irish provinces at the RDS Arena, to Munster in 2008 and Ulster in 2013.
But Connacht have gained traction over the last month – winning four games in a row in all competitions – and Aki says his side will not be cowed by a similarly in-form Leinster.
“Confidence is always there with us,” said Aki, who signed a new Connacht contract along with second-row Ultan Dillane earlier this week.
“If you are not confident in what you are doing things will go wrong. It is a big confidence for us especially how we started the season.
“We didn’t start it well and we just slowly built into it. But boys trusted in each other and in what we need to do, but we are slowly getting there.
“It’s another challenge for us this weekend against Leinster, another world-class team that we have to try and overcome. We have just got to make sure we play our game and stick to our guns, and play really well.”
Pat Lam has made three changes to his starting XV, restoring the fit-again Tiernan O’Halloran to full-back with top try-scorer Cian Kelleher shifting to the wing opposite Niyi Adeolokun while Aki slides onto the bench.
In the front-row Dave Heffernan and Conor Carey pack down while on the bench lock James Cannon could make his first appearance since signing from Wasps.
Leo Cullen has reshuffled his pack on a far larger scale, making ten changes in total with captain Isa Nacewa the only back retained from their victory over Montpellier.
On the wings Barry Daly makes his first Leinster start and Adam Byrne his first start of the season, while Rory O’Loughlin and Noel Reid is the brand new centre partnership.
Scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park and fly-half Joey Carbery, who earned his first call-up to the Ireland squad earlier this week, is the half-back pairing.
Ireland hooker Sean Cronin slots into the front-row, Mick Kearney is joined by Ian Nagle in the second-row, while Sean O’Brien moves to openside flanker with Dan Leavy on the blindside and Jack Conan at No.8.
“It’s a really big game for us against the Pro 12 champions and it is an opportunity for some guys to come in and take their chance,” said Leinster head coach Leo Cullen.
“If we want to be successful and produce players from the Academy to play for Ireland, we need a competitive squad and we have focused on that in the last couple of seasons.
“It is tough because you can only pick 15 players every week. The Irish players have challenges coming up but we have a competitive team out.”
Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 28, Leinster won 20, Connacht won 8.
At RDS Arena, 5.15pm. Live on Sky Sports
Referee: John Lacey (IRFU, 57th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Andy Brace, Jonathan Peak (both IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: Tim Lowry (IRFU)
TMO: Olly Hodges (IRFU)
A try for both Leinster wings saw them move to the top of the GUINNESS Pro12 table, level on points with Ospreys and Glasgow Warriors, after a 24-13 victory over Connacht.
Adam Byrne and debutant Barry Daly both crossed for the home side at the RDS Arena with Isa Nacewa adding 14 points with the boots while Shane Delahunt got a consolation Connacht try.
The win stretches the Leinstermen’s winning streak at home to 19 matches and saw them avenge the Guinness PRO12 final defeat to Connacht last year.
Connacht enjoyed the better of the early stages and took the lead when Craig Ronaldson successfully a converted a penalty after Cian Healy was penalised.
Ronaldson doubled the visitors lead after 13 minutes with a second penalty from the right-hand side just outside the 22.
Leinster finally managed to get themselves onto the scoreboard after 23 minutes as the New Zealand born Isa Nacewa knocked over a straight forward kick from in front of the posts.
Flanker Sean O’Brien was then shown a yellow card for an illegal clear out at a ruck but it didn’t prevent Nacewa levelling the scores after 32 minutes.
With O’Brien seconds away from returning to the field, it was Connacht’s turn to be temporarily reduced to 14 men as outside-centre Peter Robb was given his marching orders.
Robb was stretching for an interception but only managed to knock on and referee John Lacey adjudged it to have been deliberate.
And it was the home side that took the lead into the break as Nacewa knocked over the resulting penalty with 38 minutes on the clock.
Connacht piled on the pressure as the clock ticked past 40 minutes but a knock on just metres out from the Leinster line saw their opportunity go begging.
The crucial score of the game came ten minutes after the break as Byrne scored his third try in Leinster colours.
The home side had a five-metre scrum and after a few tight phases, hooker Jack Conan’s good hands found Byrne in space with the winger cleverly waiting for the bounce before gathering and diving over the line.
Nacewa missed the conversion but had his fourth successful penalty of the afternoon just before the hour mark.
Leinster sealed the victory with five minutes left on the clock, as winger Barry Daly sealed a dream debut with try from close range.
Shane Delahunt added a late consolation try with an excellent line to break through the Leinster defence which had been impregnable up until the last minute of the game.
Guinness PRO12 Final 2017 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 adults and €5 child, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie. For further information visit http://www.pro12rugby.com/final