Leinster have lost their last two games away from home but Saturday’s visit to the Sportsground may provide a better return. The reigning European champions have lost only once to Connacht in their last 10 meetings – last season’s memorable 19-18 triumph for Connacht at their Galway base.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Saturday, January 2
CONNACHT (10th) v LEINSTER (3rd), The Sportsground, 4pm (live Setanta Sports 1)
Team News: Team captain John Muldoon and hooker Sean Cronin, who were rested last week in accordance with IRFU stipulations on international players, will return to the Connacht side for Saturday’s Magners League showdown with Leinster.
Muldoon and Cronin are among several changes to the Connacht side to take on Leinster in the Magners League at the Sportsground this weekend.
Also returning to the westerners’ starting fifteen are Fionn Carr, Ian Keatley, Frank Murphy, Ronan Loughney, Robbie Morris, Mike McCarthy and Ray Ofisa.
Full-back Gavin Duffy and loosehead prop Brett Wilkinson are two notable absentees, with Duffy having injured his jaw in last week’s loss to Munster and Wilkinson nursing a hand injury.
Jamie Hagan has recovered from a finger injury to feature again in the Connacht front row, while Troy Nathan will line out at full-back in a reshuffled back-line.
The surface of the pitch at the Sportsground has been covered since Thursday in a bid to beat the big freeze and ensure that Saturday’s eagerly awaited game goes ahead.
Meanwhile, the Leinster team to face Connacht in the derby clash at the Sportsground has been named.
Ireland trio Girvan Dempsey, Trevor Hogan and Mike Ross come into the Leinster team for the trip to Galway in a side that includes nine Ireland internationals in all in the starting line-up.
Dempsey starts at full-back and Shane Horgan and Isa Nacewa continue on the wings, while Ireland ‘A’ international Fergus McFadden will partner fellow former Clongowes man Gordon D’Arcy in the centre.
Eoin Reddan will continue his half-back partnership with Shaun Berne. In the pack, Nathan Hines has recovered from injury to take his place in the back row alongside Sean O’Brien and Stephen Keogh.
The replacements bench will be confirmed by the Leinster management closer to kick-off.
CONNACHT: Troy Nathan; Liam Bibo, Niva Ta’auso, Keith Matthews, Fionn Carr; Ian Keatley, Frank Murphy; Ronan Loughney, Sean Cronin, Robbie Morris, Mike McCarthy, Bernie Upton, John Muldoon (capt), Ray Ofisa, George Naoupu.
Replacements: Adrian Flavin, Jamie Hagan, Michael Swift, Andrew Browne, Conor O’Loughlin, Miah Nikora, Aidan Wynne.
LEINSTER: Girvan Dempsey; Shane Horgan, Fergus McFadden, Gordon D’Arcy, Isa Nacewa; Shaun Berne, Eoin Reddan; Stan Wright, Bernard Jackman, Mike Ross, Leo Cullen (capt), Trevor Hogan, Nathan Hines, Sean O’Brien, Stephen Keogh.
Replacements (from): Richardt Strauss, Ronan McCormack, Devin Toner, Kevin McLaughlin, Paul Ryan, Paul O’Donohoe, Simon Keogh, David Kearney.
Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: David Wilkinson, Michael Black (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Bertie Smith (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 5/2; Draw: 20/1; Leinster to win: 2/7
Pre-Match Quotes: Alan Gaffney (Leinster) – “You always get a tough contest at the Sportsground, but it will be a good test for us and one that we are looking forward to.
“It will be a real battle this week. Connacht have a very competitive forward pack – Sean Cronin and Brett Wilkinson were involved with the Ireland squad over the November series, not to mention the likes of Jamie Hagan, who we know, and Johnny Muldoon who is an excellent performer.
“They’re a hard grafting pack, and that’s not to mention their back-line who don’t get the credit that they deserve. They have scored some good tries in recent weeks so it will be a test of our defence as well.
“From our perspective we weren’t happy with how we played against Ulster. We know that we have to maintain higher standards and that starts again for us this weekend because we want to keep a high placing in the Magners League.
“It is important that we go out this weekend and play some attacking rugby like we know that we can, because we didn’t manage that against Ulster.
“I know that the boys have got their heads screwed on for the challenge ahead and we will look to approach the game in a positive manner.”
Fergus McFadden (Leinster) – “We know what to expect against Connacht because they are formidable opponents at the Sportsground and they have been in impressive form at home and away over the last few weeks.
“Obviously I would know a few of their players like Fionn (Carr), Jamie (Hagan) and Keats (Ian Keatley) who were involved in the Leinster Academy before, but we’re expecting a really tough game up front first and foremost and we will have to gain dominance there to lay the platform.
“You never get an easy game in interpro derbies and we’re under no illusions as to what kind of a challenge awaits us.
“From our perspective it is vital that we work on the areas that we were poor at last weekend in the win over Ulster.
“There were a few 50-50 passes that were poorly executed from our end, while there were defensive errors that will be punished if we repeat them this week.
“But training has gone well and the focus and intent from the squad has been encouraging. It’s not as if we need major reconstruction, but we do need to tighten up some of our areas and to be more clinical in possession.”
Top Scorers – 2009/10 Magners League: Connacht – Points: Ian Keatley 70; Tries: Fionn Carr 4; Leinster – Points: Jonathan Sexton 71; Tries: Shane Horgan 2
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Friday, February 29, 2008 – Connacht 10 Leinster 16, The Sportsground
Sunday, October 5, 2008 – Connacht 19 Leinster 18, The Sportsground
Friday, January 2, 2009 – Leinster 26 Connacht 18, The RDS
– Connacht have won their last three games at the Sportsground in all competitions, but have lost their last five matches against fellow Irish provinces
– Leinster have won four of their last five games in all competitions, but have lost their last two away from home in the Magners League
– Connacht’s only win over Leinster in their last ten meetings was a 19-18 success at the Sportsground in the Magners League in October 2008