Leinster enjoyed a six-match winning streak against their fellow Irish provinces in the RaboDirect PRO12 last season. They held on for a narrow 15-13 win at the Sportsground in January, so revenge will be on Connacht’s minds when the sides meet in round 5.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, September 28
CONNACHT (9th) v LEINSTER (4th), the Sportsground, 8pm (live TG4)
Team News: Head coach Eric Elwood has made a number of changes to his Connacht side as they prepare to take on Heineken Cup champions Leinster at the Sportsground on Friday.
Robbie Henshaw replaces injured captain Gavin Duffy (hamstring) in the full-back position. The 19-year-old earned his first competitive start in Glasgow last weekend and had made a notable impact from the bench in all three previous league matches.
Both Tiernan O’Halloran and Fetu’u Vainikolo return to their starting positions on the wing, while Eoin Griffin joins the in-form David McSharry in the centre.
Notable, former Scotland out-half Dan Parks will make a welcome return to rugby as he debuts for the province, having recovered from a troublesome calf injury.
Up front, Brett Wilkinson makes way for Denis Buckley at loosehead prop and former Leinster prop Nathan White, who also captains the side, starts again on the tighthead side of the scrum.
Michael Swift slots back into the second row for a record 150th RaboDirect PRO12 appearance, combining again with Ireland international Mike McCarthy.
Eoin McKeon, who started the last two weeks in the number 8 position, moves to blindside flanker with Johnny O’Connor and George Naoupu completing the selected back row.
The westerners have lost their first two home games of the season, going down to the Cardiff Blues and Scarlets, so experienced lock Swift is hoping for a better result against their provincial rivals.
“Leinster at home is a match that always excites and it’s a fixture that we’ve done well in recently and it will be great to make my 150th appearance – I didn’t really know about that to be honest,” he said.
“I want to keep going with Connacht for as long as I can and as long as the legs let me.
“Hopefully we can get the win, losing the first two matches means it has been a disappointing start to the season but like last year, we’re not too far away.”
Meanwhile, the Leinster team to face Connacht in Friday night’s interprovincial encounter in Galway has been named.
Ireland international Rob Kearney will make his first start of the season, and 121st Leinster appearance. The Louth man has been named in a back-line which also includes Fergus McFadden on the right wing.
Gordon D’Arcy will be partnered in the centre by Brendan Macken, who scored a brace of tries last weekend, with Isa Nacewa moving to the left wing and John Cooney linking up with Ian Madigan at half-back.
Up front, Shane Jennings leads the team and he is joined in the pack by Ben Marshall and Quinn Roux, the South African lock who is set to make his second appearance for the province.
Heinke van der Merwe comes into the front row, while the province can call on an all-Ireland international front row off the bench in ex-Connacht hooker Sean Cronin, Cian Healy and Mike Ross.
New second row Tom Denton, who is looking forward to his first interpro experience, said: “It was a fantastic opportunity to come over (to Leinster from Leeds), one I couldn’t refuse. The facilities are great, the coaches outstanding and the culture they have here – everyone works so hard.
“I was given my first start last week (against Edinburgh) and now I want to kick on. The pressure is on, but I prefer to play when the pressure is on because I will raise my game.
“This league is a faster tempo and that makes you a better all-round player. You make decisions and react quicker.”
CONNACHT: Robbie Henshaw; Tiernan O’Halloran, Eoin Griffin, David McSharry, Fetu’u Vainikolo; Dan Parks, Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, Adrian Flavin, Nathan White (capt), Michael Swift, Mike McCarthy, Eoin McKeon, Johnny O’Connor, George Naoupu.
Replacements: Jason Harris-Wright, Brett Wilkinson, Ronan Loughney, David Gannon, Willie Faloon, David Moore, Miah Nikora, Mata Fifita.
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Fergus McFadden, Brendan Macken, Gordon D’Arcy, Isa Nacewa; Ian Madigan, John Cooney; Heinke van der Merwe, Tom Sexton, Jamie Hagan, Quinn Roux, Tom Denton, Ben Marshall, Shane Jennings (capt), Leo Auva’a.
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Cian Healy, Mike Ross, Devin Toner, Jordi Murphy, Luke McGrath, Noel Reid, Fionn Carr.
Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: David Wilkinson, Michael Black (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Seamus Flannery (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 2/1; Draw: 20/1; Leinster to win: 2/5
Pre-Match Quotes: Eric Elwood (Connacht) – “Leinster had a big strong team last weekend and Edinburgh challenged them, but regardless of what team they send down, it will be difficult for us. Derby matches are always special, but you are never going to get an easy one,” he told the Galway Advertiser.
“We have addressed the (defensive) issue this week and we are very honest in our assessment – it is not good enough and not acceptable. We cannot tolerate any more.
“We are far better than that, but statistics don’t lie, Leaking four tries in both of the last two games is not good enough.
“Hands up, some of those scores were preventable. We are far better than that, and we will have another opportunity to show that against Leinster – another strong attacking side – and that is the challenge.
“We have an obligation to ourselves and our supporters. We know the last couple of results have not been good, and now we have an opportunity in this derby match to get things right.
“We are all hurting here at the moment because we are proud of what we do, and now we have a ‘must win’ game this Friday.”
Kevin McLaughlin (Leinster) – “We did what we had to do (against Edinburgh). We got a home win but we’re a team that prides ourselves on playing to a high standard. We didn’t reach that standard.
“I don’t think we were ruthless enough. We weren’t clinical enough with the ball in hand. It is probably a feature that has factored into our season to date.
“We never really built momentum. We need to improve on that away to Connacht. There’s definitely a bit of frustration in the way we are playing. But we’re not going to panic.
“We are going to look to really kick on from here. The more you train together, the more you play together, the more you start to gel together.
“We need to look at our structured phase attack. We need to hold onto the ball longer, be more clinical at the breakdown and get through phases.
“That is what we did so well at the back end of last season. It got us the Heineken Cup. We need to look at building towards that again.”
Top Scorers – 2012/13 RaboDirect PRO12: Connacht – Points: Miah Nikora 30; Tries: Tiernan O’Halloran, George Naoupu, Mike McCarthy, Eoin Griffin, Mark McCrea, Nathan White 1 each; Leinster – Points: Ian Madigan 33; Tries: Brendan Macken 3
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
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
– Connacht’s only victory in their last five RaboDirect PRO12 matches was a 30-17 success away to Zebre in Parma on September 7
– Connacht ended an unwanted run of ten straight defeats against fellow Irish provinces with their victory over Ulster at the Sportsground in April
– Leinster have recorded three successive wins over the Newport Gwent Dragons, Benetton Treviso and Edinburgh
– The Leinstermen achieved a clean sweep of six straight wins against their Irish provincial rivals last season in the RaboDirect PRO12
– Connacht have not beaten Leinster since a 27-13 victory at the Sportsground in April 2010