ROUND 2 FIXTURES -
CONNACHT (4th) v LEINSTER (2nd), Ballinasloe RFC, 2.30pm
The odds are stacked against the westerners on Saturday. Their second half collapse in Ulster has stung the pride in the camp and there will be a real determination, first and foremost, to put in a strong performance against title contenders Leinster.
After a 13-8 win over Munster, the Dave Mahon-coached visitors are hoping that they can secure a second win here and set up the final day showdown with Ulster in Dromore, but there is a job to do against a Connacht side that has beaten them twice in the last three years.
All those stats matter not a jot now, Connacht met an Ulster side that had been together for over a month and were very well drilled when it came to the second half surge.
For Ambrose Conboy, this will have been a challenging week of training and motivating. He coached the province to a title two years ago and can get a performance out of them here.
Connacht make three changes to the side that lost in Larne last weekend. Ballinasloe's Kevin Gavin comes in for the injured Jamie Dever at loosehead prop. The Westport man went off injured during the opening round game in Ulster.
OLBC prop Ger Fahy switches from tighthead to hooker with Daniel Barrett moving to the bench and Paul McCreanor of OLBC coming in at number 3. In the second row Sean Connolly comes into the side with Aidan McNulty switching to the back row in place of Kevin Keogh.
A pretty tough run of injuries has forced Leinster into five changes from the Munster match. Dundalk's Steven McGee slots in at full-back for Niall O'Donoghue, who was a try scorer against Munster. Daniel Pim from All-Ireland Cup winners Enniscorthy replaces the injured Richie Forbes.
In the front row Cathal Bannon from Portarlington starts at loosehead prop in place of James Clifford, while injuries to Longford's Paul Gallogly and Kilkenny's Dave O'Connor lead to changes in the back row - Barry Stewart of Longford is in on the blindside and Adrian Hanley of Monkstown FC is available again and starts at number 8.
Match Prediction: Leinster to win by nine points
CONNACHT: Darren Griffin (OLBC); Kevin Corcoran (Westport), Dwayne Corcoran (Westport), Conor Mulligan (OLBC), Jack Vaughan (Connemara); Shane Sweeney (Connemara), Michael O'Toole (Connemara); Kevin Gavin (Ballinasloe), Ger Fahy (OLBC), Paul McCreanor (OLBC), Willie Cullinane (OLBC), Sean Connolly (OLBC), Michael Ryder (Westport), John Hayes (Ballinasloe) (capt), Aidan McNulty (Ballina).
Replacements (from): Daniel Barrett (Loughrea), JJ Carey (Ballinasloe), Fintan Crawley (Ballyhaunis), Kevin Keogh (Connemara), Aidan Loughrey (Ballinasloe), Coleman Maher (Monivea), Donncha Carey (OLBC), Ciaran Coyle (OLBC), Kieran Rouse (Ballina).
LEINSTER: Stephen McGee (Dundalk); Killian Everard (Kilkenny), Daniel Pim (Enniscorthy), Ben Swindlehurst (Newbridge), Joni Butterworth (Arklow); Bill Duggan (Monkstown), TC Campbell (Dundalk) (capt); Cathal Bannon (Portarlington), Johnny Lee (Coolmine), Dylan Quinn (Longford), Niall Smullen (Wicklow), Geoff Mullan (Coolmine), Barry Stewart (Longford), David Gilchrist (Coolmine), Dave O'Connor (Kilkenny).
Replacements: Kevin McCarthy (Newbridge), Cian Carroll (Monkstown), Conor McCormack (Cill Dara), Damien Broughall (Cill Dara), Paul Nolan (Clondalkin), Graham Barry (Newbridge); Chris Jebb (Clondalkin), Jonny Williams (Dundalk).
MUNSTER (3rd) v ULSTER (1st), Youghal RFC, 2.30pm
The title holders are still very much in the hunt to retain their crown despite an opening day defeat but they will need the win here and a favour from Ulster next week. The losing bonus point garnered in the second half against Leinster might yet prove key.
Ulster focused on building a squad of players who had a less congested spring schedule and it might be working although Alasdair McKee will be determined not let his players get too carried away with their second half blitz of Connacht.
For McKee's Munster counterpart John O'Neill, the enforced changes this weekend will be a frustration but the players coming into his side are more than capable of making an impact - Kanturk duo Mark Healy and Johnny O'Sullivan are in great form and sharp in terms of fitness.
It is all change for Munster with seven alterations in personnel from the side that lost 13-8 to Leinster in round 1.
Injuries and player availability are key here with Junior Cup semi-finals taking place in the province on the Sunday. In the back-line, Cian Keegan of Skibbereen replaces Eoin O'Carroll on the left wing. Healy starts at inside centre in place of Darren O'Keeffe.
In the pack, Clonakilty's Aidan Foley is a available to start at tighthead prop. There are two changes in the second row with JJ Frahill from Cobh and Aaron Skerritt from St. Senan's coming in for Darragh Joyce and James Corbett.
In the back row Kevin Allen from Cobh starts at in the number 6 jersey instead of Dave McCormack, while Kanturk captain O'Sullivan takes the openside berth.
Unsurprisingly, Ulster have made the least number of changes this weekend after the 62-6 win over Connacht. McKee has made just wo alterations for the trip to east Cork.
On the wing Bangor's Mike Aspley comes in for Norman Carson, and Ballyclare club captain Rob Boyd replaces Kenny Morton in the second row.
It is very hard to back against this well-prepared Ulster side, even in a game against the reigning champions, and they are slight favourites to make it two wins out of two.
Match Prediction: Ulster to win by one point
MUNSTER: Eoin Duffy (Waterpark); Warren Kelly (St. Senan's), Mark Chandler (Cobh Pirates), Mark Healy (Kanturk), Cian Keegan (Skibbereen); Stuart Lee (Old Christians), Aaron Daly (Youghal); Pa Ryan (St. Senan's), Mike Cronin (Castleisland) (capt), Aidan Foley (Clonakilty), JJ Frahill (Cobh Pirates), Aaron Skerritt (St. Senan's), Kevin Allen (Cobh Pirates), Johnny O'Sullivan (Kanturk), Ian Fitzgerald (St. Senan's).
Replacements (from): Hugh Carolan (Waterpark), Mike Calnan (Skibbereen), Darragh Joyce (Waterpark), James Corbett (Newcastle West), David Fitzgerald (Waterpark), David McCormack (Clanwilliam). Dave O'Donoghue (Waerpark), James O'Neill (Tralee), Eoin Geary (Cobh), Eoin O'Carroll (Tralee), Eoghan O'Dwyer (Thurles), Darren O'Keeffe (Crosshaven).
ULSTER: Ashley Finlay (Cooke); Andrew Hodgen (CIYMS), Gary Clotworthy (Ballyclare), Jason Morgan (Bangor), Mike Aspley (Bangor); Niall Lawther (Ballyclare), Scott Nelson (Ballymoney) (capt); Chris Nash (Academy), Phil Whyte (Bangor), James Blair (Academy), Rob Boyd (Ballyclare), Gareth Fitzpatrick (Dromore), Gareth McCoy (Portadown) Jamie Clegg (Bangor), Jamie Johnston (Enniskillen).
Replacements: Scott Finlay (Cooke), Mark Neilly (Portadown), Chris Hamilton (Donaghadee), James Carleton (Portadown), Gary Weatherup (Ballyclare), Ally Lockhart (Donaghadee), Phil Cartmill (Cooke), Alan Wilkinson (Enniskillen).
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