Tonight’s Magners League derby between Connacht and Leinster at the Sportsground is of huge important to both sides. A win for Connacht would move them level on 26 points with Ulster in the race to reach the Heineken Cup, while Leinster are chasing a victory that would guarantee a home draw for them in the Magners League semi-finals.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Wednesday, April 21
CONNACHT (10th) v LEINSTER (1st), the Sportsground, 7.45pm (live Setanta Sports Ireland)
Team News: The selected Connacht team to play Leinster shows eight changes to the side that started last Sunday’s 18-12 loss to Munster.
Brian Tuohy, Aidan Wynne, Conor O’Loughlin and Miah Nikora come into the back-line.
Up front, Ronan Loughney, Robbie Morris, Mike McCarthy and Mike McComish return to the starting fifteen.
Team captain John Muldoon has recovered from a groin injury to take his place in the back row, but centre Niva Ta’auso (knee), scrum half Frank Murphy (ankle), prop Jamie Hagan (back) and winger Liam Bibo (hamstring) are unavailable.
Meanwhile, for the trip across to Galway, Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll returns to the Leinster starting line-up and will partner Eoin O’Malley at centre.
CJ van der Linde starts in a front row which includes Stan Wright and Richardt Strauss who makes his first start for the province. Shane Jennings captains the side.
Eoin Reddan will also link up with Shaun Berne at half-back, with Ireland Under-20 international Andrew Conway named on the right wing for what will be his third appearance in Leinster colours.
Regular skipper Leo Cullen and his fellow Ireland internationals Cian Healy and Jamie Heaslip have been named on a strong looking replacements bench.
Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s game at the Sportsground, Leinster coach Michael Cheika said that they are expecting another tough, physical test against an improving Connacht side.
“There are still important league points to play for, so given the closely fought nature of these interpro matches, that just serves to sharpen our instincts for what will be a tough match,” he said.
“Connacht are one of the most improved teams in Magners League this year and they are in a strong position to win the Amlin Challenge Cup – and are on the verge of qualifying for the Heineken Cup outright – so we’re under no illusion as to what kind of challenge we face this week.
“We made it very clear to each player that over these two games (Connacht and Glasgow) each player in the squad will have an opportunity to wear the blue shirt and they will all relish the opportunity, I’m sure.
“If we bring nothing other than our ‘A’ game to Galway then we will struggle. Every game between the two sides is a dogfight.
“They probably felt that they should have won the reverse fixture at the end of the March at the RDS, so they will look to target us again this week as they always do.”
CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy; Brian Tuohy, Troy Nathan, Aidan Wynne, Fionn Carr; Miah Nikora, Conor O’Loughlin; Ronan Loughney, Sean Cronin, Robbie Morris, Michael Swift, Mike McCarthy, John Muldoon (capt), Mike McComish, George Naoupu.
Replacements: Adrian Flavin, Brett Wilkinson, Bernie Upton, Andrew Browne, Johnny O’Connor, Kieran Campbell, Ian Keatley.
LEINSTER: Girvan Dempsey; Andrew Conway, Brian O’Driscoll, Eoin O’Malley, Isa Nacewa; Shaun Berne, Eoin Reddan; Stan Wright, Richardt Strauss, CJ van der Linde, Nathan Hines, Malcolm O’Kelly, Kevin McLaughlin, Shane Jennings (capt), Stephen Keogh.
Replacements: John Fogarty, Cian Healy, Leo Cullen, Jamie Heaslip, Paul O’Donohoe, Ian Madigan, Simon Keogh.
Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Leo Colgan, Olly Hodges (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Dermot Moloney (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 9/4; Draw: 22/1; Leinster to win: 1/3
Pre-Match Quotes: Michael Bradley (Connacht) – “At this stage its a case of who is available to us. In their own rights the Munster match on Sunday and the Leinster match tomorrow (Wednesday) are big games for us and we will putting our best foot forward without putting ourselves under undue pressure in terms of losing people for the Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final.
“I think we probably had enough opportunities against Munster – just enough – over the full 80 minutes, especially in the last 10 minutes to pull off an unlikely victory on the basis of how we played.
“But Munster on the day were better. They dominated the breakdown, 22 turnovers, you lose most games if you have 22 turnovers.
“The week before against Bourgoin we were good except for a period in the second half, but Munster started off very well and put us under pressure for most of the match.
“In the latter half of the second half we started winning quick ball and that’s the key to our game-plan. If we manage to do that against Leinster, it will make for an exciting game.
“Matches are coming quick and fast and the competition is extremely tough, but it’s a great position to be in.
“The lads got over Sunday relatively quickly and we have to do that. Leinster is a good way to refocus the minds, then the Scarlets, Toulon and Ulster.”
Girvan Dempsey (Leinster) – “At this stage of the season all teams have tough schedules, particularly more so this year because of the poor weather around the turn of the year, so it’s something we have to manage and prepare for.
“It’s very difficult to play three matches on a Friday-Wednesday-Friday rota as we find ourselves this week, but this is one of the challenges that we must meet.
“The demands on the squad are great, but we’re fortunate that we have strength in depth and everyone who pulls on the shirt this week, be it against Connacht or Glasgow on Friday, will want to make a positive impression with some big games coming up.
“The Ospreys had demands on their squad last week and this week its the same for ourselves and Connacht. They were unlucky not to get a win against Munster (on Sunday) and we know that we’re in for a tough examination on Wednesday because they’re an improving side who are on a high.
“I always enjoy playing at the Sportsground because the atmosphere is lively and the supporters are right on top of you.
“There’s no chance of getting an easy game there, but what Connacht have shown this year is that they have travelled particularly well in the competition and they could have won last month’s game at the RDS.
“They really laid down a marker that day, theyre also a side who are on the brink of qualifying for the Heineken Cup, so we’ll need to be on top of our game.”
Top Scorers – 2009/10 Magners League: Connacht – Points: Ian Keatley 123; Tries: Fionn Carr 7; Leinster – Points: Jonathan Sexton 113; Tries: Rob Kearney, Isa Nacewa 3 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Saturday, March 27, 2010 – Leinster 17 Connacht 14, the RDS
– This round 10 game was originally scheduled for January 2 but had to be postponed due to the wintry weather at that time
– Connacht have lost just two of their last six matches in all competitions. But their eight-match unbeaten run at the Sportsground came to an end at the hands of Munster last Sunday
– Leinster have already secured a Magners League play-off spot, while three more match points would ensure that their semi-final will be played at home
– Michael Cheika’s men have won their last seven Magners League games since the Newport Gwent Dragons beat them at Rodney Parade on December 6
– Connacht’s only win over Leinster since 2004 came in this equivalent fixture last year at the Sportsground in Galway