It is top against bottom at the RDS on Saturday but Magners League placings will count for little when Leinster and Connacht tear into each other in a fascinating interprovincial derby. Leinster are hoping to extend their lead at the top of the table, while Connacht are chasing their first back-to-back league victories since 2006.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Saturday, March 27
LEINSTER (1st) v CONNACHT (10th), the RDS, 4.30pm (live Setanta Sports 1)
Team News: The Leinster team to face Connacht in Saturday’s Magners League derby duel at the RDS has been named.
After being capped in four of Ireland’s RBS 6 Nations matches, Leo Cullen returns to the Leinster starting line-up and captains the side for the visit of Connacht.
The Newtownmountkennedy second row joins fellow Ireland internationals Shane Jennings, Malcolm O’Kelly and Mike Ross in the pack alongside Rhys Ruddock who makes his second appearance for the province, and his home debut, after leading the Ireland Under-20s to the Six Nations title last weekend.
Eoin Reddan links up at half-back with Jonathan Sexton, with Shaun Berne shifting to inside centre.
Girvan Dempsey, a try scorer in the 20-14 victory over the Glasgow Warriors last time out, starts on the right wing to accommodate the return of Rob Kearney from international duty.
Kearney starts at full-back with Isa Nacewa continuing on the left wing.
Meanwhile, the Connacht team to play Leinster in Saturday’s Magners League derby tie has been selected and shows eight changes to the side that beat the Newport Gwent Dragons 16-3.
Four of the changes are in the backs with Brian Tuohy, Aidan Wynne, Miah Nikora and Frank Murphy returning to the side.
Having impressed for the province’s ‘A’ team in last week’s win over the Ulster Ravens, winger Tuohy comes in to make his first Magners League appearance since last October.
Wynne slots in at outside centre, taking the place of the injured Niva Ta’auso (knee), while there are straight swops at half-back with Ian Keatley and Conor O’Loughlin on bench duty.
Up front, Robbie Morris, Bernie Upton, Mike McComish and Johnny O’Connor have been chosen to start.
With team captain John Muldoon unavailable due to a groin injury and his back row colleague Ray Ofisa also injured, McComish and O’Connor have taken their places in the starting line-up.
New Zealander Upton has been preferred in the second row to Connacht’s record caps holder Michael Swift, while recent RBS 6 Nations debutant Sean Cronin has been included among the replacements.
Fellow Ireland international Gavin Duffy will captain Connacht in Muldoon’s absence.
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Girvan Dempsey, Fergus McFadden, Shaun Berne, Isa Nacewa; Jonathan Sexton, Eoin Reddan; Stan Wright, John Fogarty, Mike Ross, Leo Cullen (capt), Malcolm O’Kelly, Rhys Ruddock, Shane Jennings, Stephen Keogh.
Replacements: Bernard Jackman, CJ van der Linde, Devin Toner, Paul Ryan, Paul O’Donohoe, Eoin O’Malley, Simon Keogh.
CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy (capt); Brian Tuohy, Aidan Wynne, Keith Matthews, Fionn Carr; Miah Nikora, Frank Murphy; Brett Wilkinson, Adrian Flavin, Robbie Morris, Mike McCarthy, Bernie Upton, Mike McComish, Johnny O’Connor, George Naoupu.
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Jamie Hagan, Michael Swift, Andrew Browne, Conor O’Loughlin, Ian Keatley, Troy Nathan.
Referee: Jerome Garces (France)
Assistant Referees: Simon McDowell, Jude Quinn (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Peter Ferguson (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): to follow
Pre-Match Quotes: Michael Cheika (Leinster) – “This period of the calendar is always a bit difficult to manage but it’s a good time to test the strength of our squad.
“We also have an extra game in there because of the postponements in January, so that meant there was an extra workload, but hopefully our results in this period are an indicator as to how we might perform over the next few weeks.
“There was a pretty poignant time last year when we lost to Connacht. Their coach (Michael Bradley) said in the aftermath that they targeted us.
“Obviously they think that they can beat us and they feel that they have the wood over us, or the better of us.
“Home matches are very important for us and Saturday is going to be a big game. Every match against Connacht over the last five years has been a battle so we have to make sure that we’re strategically right and physically right particularly.”
Michael Bradley (Connacht) – “We always look forward to the games against the other Irish provinces and this one is no different as we head into a crucial part of the season.
“Away matches in the Magners League are difficult for everyone. Leinster are European champions, are playing at home and are on the top of league while we are at the bottom.
“Those are the facts, but we don’t go into matches thinking about historical reasons why we should or shouldn’t win.
“We go into the game with a game-plan and, if we execute it, we are confident we can win it. The fancied team doesn’t always win the match – look at Ireland and Scotland last weekend.”
Top Scorers – 2009/10 Magners League: Leinster – Points: Jonathan Sexton 93; Tries: Shane Horgan, Isa Nacewa, Girvan Dempsey, Fergus McFadden 2 each; Connacht – Points: Ian Keatley 107; Tries: Fionn Carr 5
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
– Leinster top the Magners League table and have not suffered a defeat in any competition since they visited the Newport Gwent Dragons in the league on December 6
– Michael Cheika’s men continue to be formidable at the RDS with a dozen straight victories there in the Magners League
– Connacht secured a third victory of the Magners League campaign against the Dragons on St. Patrick’s Day, but have not won back-to-back matches in the competition since the opening two rounds of the 2006/07 season
– Connacht have won just one of their last ten encounters with Leinster, and have not won in Dublin since a 26-23 victory at Donnybrook in September 2002