Connacht welcome Leinster to the Sportsground for the first of the Inter-Pros this season in the Guinness PRO14.
Defending champions Leinster were beaten in Galway last season and will be looking for revenge on Saturday against Andy Friend’s side.
What’s at stake? Despite a seemingly slow start to the season, Leinster already sit top of Conference B with three wins from four this season. That includes a thumping win over Edinburgh last time out, but their two games on the road this season have seen them narrowly defeat Cardiff Blues before losing to Scarlets.
Connacht sit third in Conference A with two wins from four, including a success against the Scarlets last week that showed the progress they have made in little time under the stewardship of Friend.
Team news (Connacht): Connacht have made two changes to the team that beat Scarlets last weekend, both coming in the pack. Ultan Dillane comes into the second row in place of Gavin Thornbury while Colby Fainga’a is tasked with filling the shoes of injured skipper Jarrad Butler. In the flanker’s absence, it is hooker Dave Heffernan who takes on captaincy duties.
Team news (Leinster): Leinster have rung the changes compared to the team that beat Edinburgh last weekend with two new faces in the backs and four up front. Rob Kearney comes in at full-back, with Jordan Larmour switching to the wing, while Joe Tomane starts at inside centre. Up front, Sean Cronin and Tadhg Furlong are named in the front row with Scott Fardy stepping in at lock. Finally Rhys Ruddock gets the nod at blindside flanker, and Sean O’Brien is set for his first appearance since April after being named on the bench.
Connacht head coach Andy Friend said: “We were really happy with the win against Scarlets last weekend and that needs to become our baseline and the standard that we have to meet consistently.
“Leinster are an outstanding side and deserving European and Guinness PRO14 Champions so it’s a huge challenge. We will need to raise our standards another notch if we are to compete with them. So that’s the challenge and we are really looking forward to it.”
Key battle: Kieran Marmion v Luke McGrath
We almost had the two Sean O’Briens facing off against one another, but the Ireland and Lions flanker is only on the bench on his return to action. Instead, it’s hard to look past the battle of the scrum-halves. Kieran Marmion and Luke McGrath have been in a real battle to be Conor Murray’s back-up at Test level in recent seasons and their head-to-head match-up will be intriguing just over a month out from the November Tests with Murray still nursing a neck injury. With John Cooney also excelling at Ulster, there is even more on the line for the two scrum-halves.
Key fact: Connacht were the only Irish side to beat Leinster last season, with Leo Cullen’s team avoiding defeat in the other six clashes with their countrymen.
Did you know? Leinster have won just once on the road in 2018 in the Guinness PRO14, away to Cardiff Blues on the opening weekend of the season.
Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, Cian Kelleher, Tom Farrell, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion, Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Quinn Roux, Sean O’Brien, Colby Fainga’a, Robin Copeland.
Replacements: Tom McCartney, Peter McCabe, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, James Cannon, Paul Boyle, Caolin Blade, Craig Ronaldson, Niyi Adeolokun.
Leinster: Rob Kearney, Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Joe Tomane, James Lowe, Johnny Sexton, Luke McGrath, Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Tadhg Furlong, Devin Toner, Scott Fardy, Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan
Replacements: James Tracy, Ed Byrne, Andrew Porter, Ross Molony, Sean O’Brien, Nick McCarthy, Ross Byrne, Rory O’Loughlin
A fantastic solo effort from Garry Ringrose and a powerful score from Sean Cronin gave Leinster a valuable 20-3 win on the road at Connacht.
Two tries were enough to see Leinster surge past the hosts, keeping them out with solid defence to stay top of Conference B.
Rob Kearney was caught holding on and Jack Carty punished Leinster by slotting the penalty to give Connacht an early lead.
Leinster pushed hard but the Connacht defence stood tall, combined with a number of handling errors in the red zone from the Leinstermen.
Finally the visitors got on the board after more than half an hour, with Johnny Sexton nailing a penalty after Connacht were caught offside.
Leinster then took a slender lead on the stroke of half time, with Josh van der Flier getting held up on the line and the resultant scrum being collapsed by the hosts, meaning Sexton knocked a penalty over for a three-point lead at the break.
The game was set alight as Leinster came firing out of the changing rooms and scored in the opening minute of the half, Gary Ringrose stepping inside and slicing through the Connacht defence to touch down.
Sexton added the extras and suddenly Leinster had a ten-point lead.
The defending PRO14 champions started to turn the screw midway through the second half, with Sean Cronin muscling over after a driving maul and Sexton again converting to increase the lead.
Jordan Larmour came very close to Leinster’s third try after picking the ball up on the wing and chipping over the last defender, only to be caught holding on when he got tackled.
The play broke up when the referee stopped play for a potential foul and the TMO showed Dominic Robertson-McCoy stamping in the ruck, for which he saw red and Connacht played out the last ten minutes with 14 men.
Still Leinster pushed for a third, with Rory O’Loughlin inches from the line before the ball was knocked out of his hands.
Connacht went searching for a score late on but were shut out at every opportunity by the reigning champions, who showed why they lifted the trophy last season by defending well to leave the hosts try-less.
28 Sep 2018
28 Sep 2018