It is top versus bottom in the Magners League at the Sportsground tonight as Connacht strive for a much-needed win over an in-form Leinster side.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Friday, February 29
CONNACHT v LEINSTER, The Sportsground, 7.30pm (live Setanta Sports 2)
Team News: Michael Bradley has made three changes and one positional switch to the Connacht team for his side’s second game of the season against Leinster.
Keith Matthews returns to the westerners’ starting line-up for the first time since November, having recovered from an ankle injury sustained against Cetransa El Salvador. He has been selected on the right wing.
Conor O’Loughlin comes back in at scrum half, while, in the forwards, John Muldoon moves to blindside flanker in place of the injured Michael McCarthy, with Colm Rigney being promoted back into the side at number 8.
Connacht’s chances of pulling off the win have not been helped by a lengthening injury list. John Hearty (hip), the aforementioned McCarthy (shoulder), Daniel Riordan (hamstring), Ofisa Treviranus (leg) and Darren Yapp (calf) are all currently sidelined.
Meanwhile, Leinster boss Michael Cheika has announced his team and replacements for the Interprovincial derby, although there are some selection issues still to be ironed out.
Malcolm O’Kelly will become the second most-capped Leinster player of all-time after being named in the province’s second row.
The Galway game will mark O’Kelly’s 138th appearance for the province and he is now just one behind caps record holder Reggie Corrigan.
O’Kelly, Ireland’s most-capped international, will line up alongside Trevor Hogan in the second row with Shane Jennings returning from injury to form an exciting back row alongside Stephen Keogh and January’s Bank of Ireland Leinster Player of the Month Keith Gleeson.
Brian Blaney starts at hooker and will be flanked on either side of the front row by Stan Wright and former Springbok Ollie Le Roux, who donned the number 2 jersey last time out in Leinster’s 24-17 victory over Cardiff Blues.
In the back-line, Chris Whitaker will captain the side from number 9 and he will be partnered at half-back by Felipe Contepomi, while Luke Fitzgerald starts again at full-back after scoring in Leinster’s last outing.
Another try scorer against Cardiff, Michael Berne starts at outside centre alongside Christian Warner with both the left and right wingers set to be announced closer to kick-off. The outside back replacement will also be confirmed then.
The fit-again Shane Horgan is one of the players in the running for the wide berths.
CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy; Keith Matthews, Matt Mostyn, Mel Deane, Aidan Wynne; Andy Dunne, Conor O’Loughlin; Brett Wilkinson, Adrian Flavin, Robbie Morris, Michael Swift, Andrew Farley (capt), John Muldoon, Johnny O’Connor, Colm Rigney.
Replacements: Joey Merrigan, Ronan Loughney, David Gannon, Ray Ofisa, Conor McPhillips, Tim Donnelly, Liam Bibo.
LEINSTER: Luke Fitzgerald; Shane Horgan/Gary Brown/Fionn Carr/Felix Jones (three to be omitted), Michael Berne, Christian Warner, Shane Horgan/Gary Brown/Fionn Carr/Felix Jones (three to be omitted); Felipe Contepomi, Chris Whitaker (capt); Ollie Le Roux, Brian Blaney, Stan Wright, Trevor Hogan, Malcolm O’Kelly, Shane Jennings, Keith Gleeson, Stephen Keogh.
Replacements: Cian Healy, Stephen Knoop, Cameron Jowitt, Kevin McLaughlin, Chris Keane, Eoin O’Malley, AN Other.
Referee: George Clancy (Munster)
Say What: Michael Bradley (Connacht) – “We’ve run Leinster very close over the last couple of years including last year at home so there’ll be no surprises in store for either side. We know each other very well and we know it’s going to be a tough game.
“They’ll be missing a number of players but we still expect it to be very tight. We’ll be looking to press our home advantage and hopefully we’ll come out on the right side of the score-line.”
Felipe Contepomi (Leinster) – “When you play against a team like Connacht the important thing that you have to remember is that they are a passionate team that plays with great pride.
“Though they have some really talented individuals who we have to be wary of such as Gavin Duffy, Johnny O’Connor and Mel Deane, their real strength is in how they perform as a unit. They have increased their squad over the last two years and it’s clear that they are improving as a team.
“Interprovincials are special games to play in. It doesn’t matter if you’re first or last in the league, if you take your eye off the ball then you will struggle.
“That’s what makes the Magners League such a good competition to play in because all the teams are very evenly matched, so it always makes it hard going.”
Top Scorers: 2007/08 Magners League – Points: Connacht: Tim Donnelly 74; Leinster: Felipe Contepomi 60; Tries: Connacht: Robbie Morris, Conor O’Loughlin 2 each; Leinster: Luke Fitzgerald 5.
PREVIOUS LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, September 13, 2002 – Leinster 23 Connacht 26, Donnybrook
Friday, October 17, 2003 – Leinster 21 Connacht 6, Donnybrook
Saturday, March 13, 2004 – Connacht 35 Leinster 24, The Sportsground
Friday, November 5, 2004 – Leinster 18 Connacht 9, The Sportsground
Sunday, March 20, 2005 – Connacht 21 Leinster 26, The Sportsground
Saturday, December 3, 2005 – Connacht 9 Leinster 21, The Sportsground
Sunday, March 5, 2006 – Leinster 16 Connacht 13, Donnybrook
Friday, September 29, 2006 – Connacht 16 Leinster 31, The Sportsground
Saturday, March 24, 2007 – Leinster 30 Connacht 21, Donnybrook
Friday, November 2, 2007 – Leinster 29 Connacht 9, The RDS
– It is top plays bottom in the Magners League in this fixture. Connacht have won their last two home games in the Magners League but have not won three in a row in the competition in Galway since the 2005/06 season
– Connacht’s only win over a fellow Irish province since March 2004 was their 22-12 victory at home to Ulster on New Year’s Eve 2005
– Leinster are top of the table courtesy of an unbeaten run of seven matches in the Magners League including six straight wins. Leinster’s last loss in the league was a 21-17 reversal at Glasgow on October 12
– Michael Cheika’s men have lost just once in their last 14 league games against fellow Irish sides since October 2005 – 25-11 at Munster on December 27, 2006
– Leinster have won the last seven clashes between the two provinces. Connacht’s last victory in the series was a 35-24 triumph at the Sportsground on March 13, 2004