The first interprovincial derby of the 2014/15 campaign sees high-flying Connacht entertain reigning league champions Leinster. Should the hosts triumph, it will be the first time they have won three successive matches at the start of a season.
GUINNESS PRO12: Friday, September 19
CONNACHT (3rd) v LEINSTER (5th), the Sportsground, 7.35pm (live TG4)
Team News: Head coach Pat Lam has made one change to his starting line-up for Connacht’s GUINNESS PRO12 showdown with Leinster at the Sportsground on Friday night.
Lock Aly Muldowney replaces Michael Kearney for his first start of the season. Irish-qualified Muldowney joins the on-loan Quinn Roux in the second row, while Galway man John Muldoon will captain the side from the back row.
There are no changes to the young back-line with the 22-year-old Jack Carty, who earned his first start against Leinster in Galway last season, keeping hold of the reins at out-half.
Ireland international Kieran Marmion, who plays his 56th consecutive game since his debut in September 2012, completes the half-back pairing.
There are changes to the bench with uncapped sub-Academy hooker Shane Delahunt and Ronan Loughney named among the forwards replacements, while the Dublin-born Matt Healy could also make his first appearance of the season.
Tickets for Connacht v Leinster are going fast with the Clan Stand and Main Stand now sold out. There are limited tickets remaining for behind the posts, in the Enclosed Stand and the newly installed Seated Stand. Click here for tickets.
Meanwhile, the Leinster team to face Connacht in Galway has been announced – Fergus McFadden comes in to replace the injured Zane Kirchner and Rhys Ruddock will start his first game of the season.
Ruddock is set to wear the number six jersey, with Dominic Ryan making a positional switch to openside flanker.
Shane Jennings will start among the replacements and is just two games away from his 200th Leinster appearance. Last Saturday’s man-of-the-match, Jamie Heaslip, completes the back row and will captain Leinster.
The rest of the front eight are retained from the bonus point win over the Scarlets. Devin Toner and Mike McCarthy start in the second row behind the front row trio of Jack McGrath, hooker Sean Cronin and Mike Ross.
Rob Kearney and Darragh Fanning feature in the back-three for the second successive match, with McFadden coming in to replace Kirchner who will be out for two to three weeks with a hamstring injury.
There are no changes in midfield or at half-back. Ian Madigan starts at inside centre with Brendan Macken alongside him, while Jimmy Gopperth and Isaac Boss are the province’s starting half-back pairing once again.
Meanwhile, Ireland centre Gordon D’Arcy is named in a Leinster matchday squad for the first time this season, starting from the bench.
CONNACHT: Darragh Leader; Niyi Adeolokun, Robbie Henshaw, David McSharry, Danie Poolman; Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, David Heffernan, Nathan White, Aly Muldowney, Quinn Roux, John Muldoon (capt), Willie Faloon, Eoin McKeon.
Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Ronan Loughney, Rodney Ah You, Michael Kearney, George Naoupu, Ian Porter, Craig Ronaldson, Matt Healy.
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Fergus McFadden, Brendan Macken, Ian Madigan, Darragh Fanning; Jimmy Gopperth, Isaac Boss; Jack McGrath, Sean Cronin, Mike Ross, Devin Toner, Mike McCarthy, Rhys Ruddock, Dominic Ryan, Jamie Heaslip (capt).
Replacements: Bryan Byrne, Cian Healy, Tadhg Furlong, Tom Denton, Shane Jennings, Eoin Reddan, Gordon D’Arcy, Mick McGrath.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Eddie Hogan O’Connell, Olly Hodges (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Seamus Flannery (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 23/10; Draw: 20/1; Leinster to win: 3/10
Pre-Match Quotes: Pat Lam (Connacht) – “Aly comes in for his first start after recovering from a pre-season injury sustained in France. It’s great to have further options up front and we look forward to Mick’s impact off the bench.
“With the unfortunate injury to Sean (Henry), young Shane comes in as a replacement. Shane (Delahunt) travelled with us to Clermont and got some game-time against a top French side. It’s fair to say he’s pretty excited to be getting an opportunity a lot earlier than he would have expected.
“We’re pleased to have Matt (Healy) and Ronan (Loughney) back for us. They’re both very hungry to play and we expect a powerful impact from the bench if they’re called upon.
“As far as the game goes, there’s no doubt we’re all hugely excited for tomorrow’s game. This is a brilliant opportunity for our young side to test themselves as a team against a world-class side full of quality individuals.”
Marco Caputo (Leinster) – “I think Connacht really rely on the underdog status in Irish rugby. They use the fact that they like to perceive themselves as the little brother.
“They’ve been impressive (so far in the league), two from two. They were impressive last week against Edinburgh away, they were in a scrap and they wrestled their way out of it. Probably a year or two ago they might have lost that game.
“From watching them, there’s a real intent there to play positively, laterally and up-tempo. You can see the New Zealand influence there with Pat Lam. For the most part they’ve been very good at it.
“For us, this week is about making sure we recover well and make sure we put in the right amount of work so we’re not walking into an ambush. We’ve got to make sure we prepare mentally and we’re up for a scrap on Friday night.”
Top Scorers – 2014/15 GUINNESS PRO12: Connacht – Points: Darragh Leader 15; Tries: Eoin McKeon, Danie Poolman, Willie Faloon 1 each; Leinster – Points: Ian Madigan 25; Tries: Rob Kearney, Ian Madigan 2 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Saturday, October 8, 2011 – Leinster 30 Connacht 20, the RDS
Sunday, January 1, 2012 – Connacht 13 Leinster 15, the Sportsground
Friday, September 28, 2012 – Connacht 34 Leinster 6, the Sportsground
Saturday, December 29, 2012 – Leinster 17 Connacht 0, the RDS
Saturday, October 26, 2013 – Leinster 16 Connacht 13, the RDS
Saturday, January 4, 2014 – Connacht 8 Leinster 16, the Sportsground
– Connacht have begun the new GUINNESS PRO12 season with back-to-back narrow victories over the Dragons and Edinburgh, but have never started a season with three successive wins
– Connacht have been defeated in their last eleven contests with fellow Irish provinces since beating Leinster at the Sportsground in September 2012
– Leinster’s only loss in their last seven PRO12 games came in Glasgow in the opening round. The Leinstermen have won their last six fixtures against fellow Irish provinces since tripping up at Munster last October
– Connacht have achieved three victories over Leinster in their last twelve meetings, all in Galway during Leinster’s last six visits