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Magners Preview: Leinster v Connacht

Magners Preview: Leinster v Connacht

Leinster will begin 2011 with a welcome trip back to the RDS, a venue they have not played at since November 19. Connacht, today’s visitors, ended the calendar year with five straight defeats but ran Leinster close when the sides met in Dublin last March.

MAGNERS LEAGUE: Saturday, January 1

LEINSTER (5th) v CONNACHT (11th), the RDS, 5.30pm (live TG4)

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Team News: The Leinster team to face Connacht in Saturday’s Magners League derby encounter at the RDS has been named.

The fit-again Kevin McLaughlin has been named in the starting line-up for the first time this season. He will form an all-Ireland back row alongside Sean O’Brien and Shane Jennings, who leads the side.

McLaughlin, whose last outing for Leinster was seven months ago, underwent surgery on his knee and shoulder in the summer and has steadily been working his way back to fitness.

Head coach Joe Schmidt has opted to make eight changes in personnel to the team that started last Monday’s 30-13 victory over Ulster in Belfast.

Three of those are in the back-line as Paul O’Donohoe joins Shaun Berne at half-back, and Andrew Conway and Eoin O’Malley come in for Shane Horgan and Brian O’Driscoll on the right wing and at outside centre respectively.

Heinke van der Merwe holds onto the loosehead spot as Richardt Strauss and Clint Newland complete the front row, and Scotland international Nathan Hines returns in the second row alongside Devin Toner.

Sean O’Brien, the two-try hero against Ulster, stays at number 8 in a back row which is topped off by McLaughlin and stand-in skipper Jennings.

Stephen Keogh, who has impressed for the province’s ‘A’ team this season, joins Eoin Reddan and Mike Ross on a replacements bench which contains both youth and experience.

Young hooker Tom Sexton, who is a member of the Leinster Academy, is standing by to make his senior debut for the province.

Meanwhile, Connacht head coach Eric Elwood has made six changes in personnel to the team for the interprovincial derby in Dublin.

Brett Wilkinson returns from injury and replaces Rob Sweeney in the front row. Wilkinson injured his shoulder playing against Harlequins in the Amlin Challenge Cup earlier this month and the 27-year-old prop, who has been capped 106 times for Connacht, will look to return to form.

Hooker Adrian Flavin replaces Sean Cronin, who is being rested as part of the IRFU Player Welfare Programme.

Magners League debutant Eoin McKeon takes over from the injured Ezra Taylor at number 8. Taylor fractured his hand against Munster last Monday and the 19-year-old McKeon, a member of the Connacht Academy, will be hoping to build on his performance against Samoa in November.

Miah Nikora has recovered from the illness that ruled him out of the defeat to Munster and resumes at out-half, with Ian Keatley moving to outside centre to replace the benched Niva Ta’auso.

The two final changes are on the wings as Brian Tuohy and Connacht Academy graduate Eoin Griffin gain call-ups, slotting in for Fionn Carr and Darragh Fanning.

The 20-year-old Griffin, who has played four times in the Magners League, returns for the first time since suffering a hand injury against Edinburgh in November.

The side will be captained by centre Keith Matthews, who is deputising in the absence of the injured Muldoon for the second game in succession.

There is a late change on the Connacht replacements bench as flu victim Mike McComish makes way for the 20-year-old Shane Conneely, who is another member of the Connacht Academy.

LEINSTER: Isa Nacewa; Andrew Conway, Eoin O’Malley, Fergus McFadden, David Kearney; Shaun Berne, Paul O’Donohoe; Heinke van der Merwe, Richardt Strauss, Clint Newland, Nathan Hines, Devin Toner, Kevin McLaughlin, Shane Jennings (capt), Sean O’Brien.

Replacements: Tom Sexton, Jack McGrath, Mike Ross, Ed O’Donoghue, Stephen Keogh, Eoin Reddan, Ian Madigan, Niall Morris.

CONNACHT: Troy Nathan; Eoin Griffin, Ian Keatley, Keith Matthews (capt), Brian Tuohy; Miah Nikora, Cillian Willis; Brett Wilkinson, Adrian Flavin, Jamie Hagan, Michael Swift, Michael McCarthy, Andrew Browne, Johnny O’Connor, Eoin McKeon.

Replacements: Dermot Murphy, Rodney Ah You, Dylan Rogers, Bernie Upton, Shane Conneely, Frank Murphy, Niva Ta’auso, Fionn Carr.

Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Leo Colgan, Jude Quinn (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Leinster to win: 1/8; Draw: 30/1; Connacht to win: 9/2

Pre-Match Quotes: Fergus McFadden (Leinster) – “We targeted these matches (over the festive period). We knew they would be important. Mentally, we were right once we turned up on the pitch (last Monday against Ulster).

“The good thing is some of the internationals are away and some of them are with us and we’ve still managed to maintain consistency. We’re going to need that again this week.

“We will be missing players again. But we have great strength in depth this season. That is working well for us.

“Connacht are a tough team to beat these days. We found that out in the last year when they beat us (27-13) at the Sportsground and ran us close (17-14) at the RDS.

“Joe (Schmidt) had told me even before Brian O’Driscoll had got injured that he wanted me to mark (Clermont Auvergne’s) Nalaga on the wing, so he was going to try me there against the Scarlets. Things went okay for me in those two games, I thought. I did enjoy it.

“Ideally, centre is my position but, looking towards the World Cup, it could bode well for me. Hopefully I will be playing centre again like I was up at Ravenhill against Ulster, but as long as I get a bit of ball.”

Eric Elwood (Connacht) – “We thought Ezra (Taylor) was going to be okay and that he didn’t require surgery (on his hand), but now he is going to be out for six to seven weeks.

“That leaves us with a crisis in the back row. With John Muldoon and Ray Ofisa out, we have already had to call in Eoin McKeon and with Mike McComish fluey and sick we are very short.

“We played a nice bit of rugby at the end (against Munster) and created a few scoring opportunities and then came the scrum.

“We seemed to be racing them over the line when they made a change for an injury and that made a huge difference, for (Wian) du Preez is a very good scrummager. We lost a little bit of momentum and couldn’t take the chance.”

Top Scorers – 2010/11 Magners League: Leinster – Points: Isa Nacewa 105; Tries: Shane Horgan, Isa Nacewa 4 each; Connacht – Points: Ian Keatley 109; Tries: Fionn Carr 4


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
Wednesday, April 21, 2010 – Connacht 27 Leinster 13, the Sportsground
Saturday, October 23, 2010 – Connacht 6 Leinster 18, the Sportsground


– Leinster’s only defeat in their last seven Magners League matches was a 19-15 reversal at the Ospreys in round 9

– Leinster’s record home winning run in the league currently stands at 20 matches (last season’s grand final at the RDS was deemed a neutral venue)

– Connacht ran current Magners League pacesetters Munster very close last Monday, but have now slipped to five straight defeats in all competitions

– Connacht’s only away win this season came at Glasgow Warriors on September 17

– Connacht have won two of their last five encounters with Leinster, but their only win on Leinster soil in the league was at Donnybrook in September 2002