There may be quite a gap in league placings, but Leinster only had three points to spare when they last met Connacht and Pat Lam’s westerners will be suitably fired up for Saturday’s rematch as they bid for back-to-back wins at the Sportsground.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, January 4
CONNACHT (11th) v LEINSTER (2nd), the Sportsground, 7.15pm (live TG4)
Team News: Connacht head coach Pat Lam has handed 21-year-old out-half Jack Carty his first start for Saturday’s interprovincial derby match against reigning RaboDirect PRO12 champions Leinster.
Carty is one of three changes in an all-Irish qualified back-line with an average age of just 22.
The Athlone native, who is in his third year of the Connacht Academy, has captained Connacht Eagles in the British & Irish Cup this season and has featured from the bench in PRO12 games against Benetton Treviso and Munster.
Carty’s first of three senior caps came against Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun Stadium in September 2012.
Saturday night sees 21-year-old scrum half Kieran Marmion, who is Connacht’s top try scorer so far this season, play his 44th consecutive game since his debut in 2012.
Darragh Leader has also been brought up from the Academy and starts at full-back in place of the injured Gavin Duffy. The 20-year-old Galway man has played in three games this season, starting two on the wing at home against Glasgow Warriors and the Scarlets.
The pack remains unchanged from last weekend’s defeat to Munster with talented flanker Andrew Browne earning his 100th cap for the province.
John Muldoon is once again named at openside flanker, while Jake Heenan remains on the injury list. Craig Clarke will captain the side from the second row.
There are two changes to the replacements bench with veteran lock Michael Swift returning from injury. Dublin-born scrum half Paul O’Donohoe is in line to earn his 50th Connacht cap should he be called upon against his former team.
Meanwhile, Leinster head coach Matt O’Connor has made ten changes to the team that took to the pitch last weekend at the RDS, with only two backs and three forwards retained from the side that accounted for Ulster.
With Zane Kirchner moving to the right wing from full-back, Dave Kearney drops down to the replacements with his brother Rob taking the number 15 jersey from the South African.
Luke Fitzgerald, who is due to win his 120th cap on Saturday, continues his fine run of form on the left wing.
With 402 Leinster caps between them, back in to the centre come the experienced duo of Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll. Eoin Reddan starts at scrum half against his former province, with Ian Madigan beside him at out-half.
The selected pack also sees a number of fresh faces plus a positional switch in the back row.
Man-of-the-match from the Ulster game, Jordi Murphy, is positioned at openside flanker, with captain Jamie Heaslip returning at number 8. Rhys Ruddock is once again selected on the blindside.
Former Connacht hooker Sean Cronin, who spent three years at the Sportsground before joining Leinster, is also selected to start against his former province.
Joining Cronin in the front row will be Martin Moore and Jack McGrath, who earned his 50th cap off the bench against Ulster.
Finally in the second row, Devin Toner and Tom Denton start in place of Leo Cullen and Mike McCarthy. McCarthy, another ex-Connacht player, is named among the replacements.
CONNACHT: Darragh Leader; Fionn Carr, Robbie Henshaw, Eoin Griffin, Matt Healy; Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; Brett Wilkinson, Jason Harris-Wright, Nathan White, Michael Kearney, Craig Clarke (capt), Andrew Browne, John Muldoon, Eoin McKeon.
Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Denis Buckley, Rodney Ah You, Michael Swift, George Naoupu, Paul O’Donohoe, Dan Parks, Tiernan O’Halloran.
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Zane Kirchner, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald; Ian Madigan, Eoin Reddan; Jack McGrath, Sean Cronin, Martin Moore, Devin Toner, Tom Denton, Rhys Ruddock, Jordi Murphy, Jamie Heaslip (capt).
Replacements: Aaron Dundon, Jack O’Connell, Mike Ross, Mike McCarthy, Dominic Ryan, Isaac Boss, Jimmy Gopperth, Dave Kearney.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Leo Colgan, Olly Hodges (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Jude Quinn (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 10/3; Draw: 25/1; Leinster to win: 1/5
Pre-Match Quotes: Pat Lam (Connacht) – “With our second and third choice out-half out injured, we have decided to bring in young Jack Carty to start.
“Jack has been involved with us in training all year and has had some good performances with the Eagles. It is a great boost to his development as a young Irish-qualified 10 to play against such quality opposition and I know he is very much looking forward to the test.
“Young Darragh (Leader) will start at full-back, a position in which he has proven himself with the Ireland Under-20s in the Junior World Championship last summer.
“We have an extremely young back-line going up against the best team in Europe and the league champions.
“But we have a belief in our young squad and if every player does their job and commits to the game-plan we’ve put in place, then we have every chance of getting the desired result.”
Jack McGrath (Leinster) – “Connacht are always a tough side to play. With the players that have left here and gone to there, they have a point to prove to their old team-mates, they really want to get one over on them.
“The likes of Nathan White, if he’s playing I could be up against him. Even then with the new guys coming in, Craig Clarke for example. He was captain of the Chiefs. To have someone who won the Super 15 two years in a row is great experience to have.
“It was one of my first starts two years ago, in Connacht (when Leinster hung on for a 15-13 win). It was tough, one you’ll never forget.
“It’s a game Connacht get up for. It’s a tough spot to go. They’ve improved so much over the last two seasons and it’s going to be a tough one again.”
Top Scorers – 2013/14 RaboDirect PRO12: Connacht – Points: Dan Parks 68; Tries: Matt Healy 3; Leinster – Points: Jimmy Gopperth 80; Tries: Dave Kearney, Noel Reid, Jack McGrath, Jordi Murphy 2 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Saturday, January 1, 2011 – Leinster 30 Connacht 8, the RDS
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
– Connacht have won only once in the RaboDirect PRO12 since round 1: 14-11 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons on December 21
– They are attempting to win back-to-back games at the Sportsground for the first time since March
– Connacht have not beaten a fellow Irish province since the last time Leinster visited Galway on September 28, 2012
– Leinster’s only defeat in their last six PRO12 encounters was 11-6 to Edinburgh at Murrayfield in round 10
– The Leinstermen have won just once away to a fellow Irish province since April 2012: 22-16 at Munster on April 13, 2013
– Connacht have won just one of their last seven contests with Leinster: 34-6 at the Sportsground on September 28, 2012