Leinster and Connacht collide in a tasty pre-Christmas interprovincial cracker, with the hosts looking to avenge their defeat from earlier in the season and the westerners aiming to win in Dublin for the first time in 12 years.
GUINNESS PRO12: Friday, December 19
LEINSTER (5th) v CONNACHT (6th), the RDS, 7.35pm (live TG4/RTÉ 2fm/Galway Bay FM)
Team News: There are seven changes in total to the Leinster team that accounted for Harlequins in the European Champions Cup last weekend, including a number of welcome returns from injury.
Two of the changes are in the backs with Dave Kearney back from injury to take his place on the left wing, with Zane Kirchner on the right and Kearney’s older brother Rob again selected at full-back.
The other change is in the centre with Noel Reid coming in to partner Luke Fitzgerald. Isaac Boss and Jimmy Gopperth remain in place at half-back.
There are five changes in the pack with a completely new front row of Michael Bent, hooker Aaron Dundon and Tadhg Furlong selected.
It is as you were in the second row with Devin Toner and Kane Douglas in the engine room, while there are two changes in the back row. Shane Jennings returns from injury to win his 201st Leinster cap, while Kevin McLaughlin starts at blindside flanker and Jamie Heaslip captains the side from number 8.
On the bench, young South African prop Maks van Dyk (22) is in line to make his first appearance for Leinster having signed last week on a short-term contract.
Meanwhile, Pat Lam has named his Connacht team to face Leinster at the RDS in round 10 of the GUINNESS PRO12. Lock Aly Muldowney (pictured above) is the only survivor from the side that beat Bayonne 29-27 in France last weekend.
Centre Robbie Henshaw returns to action following his involvement for Ireland in the GUINNESS Series. The 21-year-old is partnered by Bundee Aki, who starts in his preferred position of inside centre for the first time.
Mils Muliaina is named at full-back in a back-three with Danie Poolman and Matt Healy. The 22-year-old Jack Carty is handed the reins at out-half for his first game at the RDS, while Ireland’s Kieran Marmion, who scored Connacht’s try at the Dublin venue last year, resumes duties at scrum half.
Up front, John Muldoon will captain the side in a back row which features Eoin McKeon and George Naoupu. On-loan lock Quinn Roux partners Aly Muldowney in the second row behind the front row trio of Denis Buckley, hooker Tom McCartney and Rodney Ah You.
The most notable inclusion on the bench is Academy forward Ultan Dillane. Following a string of impressive performances for Connacht Eagles, the 21-year-old lock from Tralee, County Kerry could make his Connacht senior debut on Friday.
With an injury to Ian Porter and unavailability of John Cooney, last week’s two-try hero, Caolin Blade, has also been named among the replacements.
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Zane Kirchner, Luke Fitzgerald, Noel Reid, Dave Kearney; Jimmy Gopperth, Isaac Boss; Michael Bent, Aaron Dundon, Tadhg Furlong, Devin Toner, Kane Douglas, Kevin McLaughlin, Shane Jennings, Jamie Heaslip (capt).
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, Maks van Dyk, Jack Conan, Jordi Murphy, Luke McGrath, Cathal Marsh, Gordon D’Arcy.
CONNACHT: Mils Muliaina; Danie Poolman, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy; Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Rodney Ah You, Quinn Roux, Aly Muldowney, John Muldoon (capt), Eoin McKeon, George Naoupu.
Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Ronan Loughney, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Willie Faloon, Caolin Blade, Craig Ronaldson, Darragh Leader.
Assistant Referees: Leo Colgan, Andy Brace (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Leinster to win: 1/6; Draw: 25/1; Connacht to win: 7/2
Pre-Match Quotes: Matt O’Connor (Leinster) – “We haven’t been getting over the try-line as much as we’d like, but I think in the two games against Harlequins we certainly played a lot of ball in hand. We created a hell of a lot of opportunities.
“We probably weren’t as good at set piece which didn’t give ourselves the opportunity to execute and capitalise on those opportunities in the right area of the field, but I thought with ball in hand we created a lot of opportunities and did a lot of very good things.
“The reality of it is that we’ve used nine centre pairings this year, which is unbelievable. That makes it very, very hard to get that connection with your outside guys and what’s going on in front of them.
“As a result, you probably leave too too many opportunities on the field. That’s something we’re working on on the field every day to make better.
“Whether (the media criticism) is fair or not is irrelevant really, we just go about doing what we do. We try and be as good as we can be every week. We don’t go out there to drop a ball, or miss lineouts, or concede penalties.
“We spend the whole week trying to be as good as we can and most of that is in and around playing and scoring tries, because that’s what we want to do. People will write what they write. The expectation is there, rightfully so because of how good a group we’ve got and what we’ve achieved. That’s out of our hands.”
Pat Lam (Connacht) – “As per our planning, we see a different team this week to the one that lined out against Bayonne. Despite the six-day turnaround and tough 12-hour trips to and from France, we were able to have a good week’s preparation due to the use of all our squad over the last three weeks.
“This was vital as we prepare for one of the biggest challenges of our season against the defending PRO12 champions stacked with quality players and in a venue where we have never won.
“While there is huge interest and excitement from supporters, we know that we will have to be fully focused on executing our roles, the game-plan and our team work to give us any chance of success. If we do that the Connacht way, I have no doubt that we are capable of creating history on Friday.
“All the players are hugely excited to be involved in this game and it’s fantastic to be able to give Ultan (Dillane), another promising player from our Academy, the opportunity to wear the Connacht jersey on the big stage.”
Top Scorers – 2014/15 GUINNESS PRO12: Leinster – Points: Ian Madigan 86; Tries: Ian Madigan, Dominic Ryan, Darragh Fanning 3 each; Connacht – Points: Craig Ronaldson 24; Tries: Kieran Marmion, Eoin McKeon, Danie Poolman 2 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Friday, September 19, 2014 – Connacht 10 Leinster 9, the Sportsground
– Leinster’s only defeat in their last eight fixtures in all competitions was at Harlequins in round 3 of the European Champions Cup
– The Leinstermen have been victorious in their last 18 encounters at the RDS since drawing there 29-all with the Ospreys in the PRO12 in round 2 last season
– Leinster have lost both games they have played against fellow Irish provinces so far this season and have only lost three successive matches against their fellow countrymen once before – in the 2003/04 season
– Connacht have won their last four matches in all competitions and have not won five in a row since 2002
– Connacht’s only loss in their last five PRO12 fixtures was 26-11 at the Ospreys in round 7
– Connacht are going for a first ever league double over Leinster having already beaten them 10-9 in Galway in round 3, however they have won only once in Dublin since 1985: 26-23 at Donnybrook in the league in September 2002