Can Connacht start 2012 with a bang and put an eleven-match losing streak behind them, or will it be a case of business as usual for current RaboDirect PRO12 leaders Leinster? The final interprovincial tie of the festive season is certainly an intriguing one.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Sunday, January 1
CONNACHT (10th) v LEINSTER (1st), the Sportsground, 5pm (live TG4)
Team News: Connacht head coach Eric Elwood has announced his team and replacements to face Leinster in their New Year’s Day derby clash at the Sportsground.
Michael Kearney earns his first competitive start for the province at blindside flanker, replacing David Gannon who came off with a knee injury in last Monday’s defeat to Munster.
Kearney, the 20-year-old Academy forward who stands at 6ft 5in, is a former Mount Temple Comprehensive pupil and has represented Ireland at Under-18, Under-20 and Colleges level.
He earned his first senior cap for Connacht against the Ospreys this season and has appeared five times for the westerners since then.
The other change in the pack sees Adrian Flavin come back in for Ethienne Reynecke at hooker. With over 117 caps Flavin is one of Connacht’s most experienced players and even allowing for Kearney’s youth, the starting forwards boast 765 caps between them
There are three changes to Connacht’s starting back-line. Frank Murphy makes way for Paul O’Donohoe at scrum half, Brian Tuohy replaces Fetu’u Vainikolo on the right wing and Connacht’s newest signing Kyle Tonetti takes over from the injured David McSharry in midfield.
Tonetti joined Connacht from Sale Sharks earlier this season and steps in for McSharry who required stitches to his chin following the St. Stephen’s Day clash with Munster.
Meanwhile, the Leinster team to face Connacht in Sunday’s RaboDirect PRO12 derby match in Galway has been named.
Isa Nacewa starts at full-back in a side which shows a number of changes to the one which lined out for the 42-13 victory over Ulster on St. Stephen’s Day.
Andrew Conway, who made a successful return from injury on Monday night, comes in on the left wing with David Kearney stationed on the right wing.
Brendan Macken will form a centre partnership with Eoin O’Malley, who will make his 42nd senior appearance for the province, and Isaac Boss links up with Ian Madigan at half-back.
Leo Cullen leads the team and partners Damian Browne in the second row with Jamie Hagan joining fellow Academy graduate Jack McGrath in the front row alongside Richardt Strauss, who made his 50th Leinster appearance against Ulster.
Final decisions on the make-up of the back row, and also the replacement back row and replacement outside back slots will be made closer to kick-off.
CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy (capt); Brian Tuohy, Eoin Griffin, Kyle Tonetti, Tiernan O’Halloran; Niall O’Connor, Paul O’Donohoe; Brett Wilkinson, Adrian Flavin, Ronan Loughney, George Naoupu, Mike McCarthy, Michael Kearney, Johnny O’Connor, John Muldoon.
Replacements: Ethienne Reynecke, Denis Buckley, Dylan Rogers, Eoin McKeon, Thomas Anderson, Frank Murphy, Matthew Jarvis, Henry Fa’afili.
LEINSTER: Isa Nacewa; David Kearney, Eoin O’Malley, Brendan Macken, Andrew Conway; Ian Madigan, Isaac Boss; Jack McGrath, Richardt Strauss, Jamie Hagan, Leo Cullen (capt), Damian Browne, Rhys Ruddock, Kevin McLaughlin/Shane Jennings, Leo Auva’a.
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Heinke van der Merwe, Nathan White, Devin Toner, Shane Jennings/Jordi Murphy, John Cooney, Noel Reid/Fionn Carr, Luke Fitzgerald.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: David Wilkinson, Michael Black (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Dermot Moloney (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 12/5; Draw: 20/1; Leinster to win: 1/3
Pre-Match Quotes: Ronan Loughney (Connacht) – “We recognise that every match is an opportunity to put this losing streak behind us, so we’re all looking forward to the derby game on Sunday evening.
“We’re a tight squad, we recognise that were in this together and the only way we’ll get out of this is by working together.
“We’re doing a lot of good stuff and we know that in all the games we’ve let slip we just need to get the small things right to make the difference.
“We believe in the game-plan that we put in place for games, we believe in what we’re doing and it’s those small things that we need to get right, cut out the small errors and that’ll be the difference between getting over the line and then getting the win.”
Sean Cronin (Leinster) – “Things are going alright (for me). I’m getting over the line for a few scores. Even though I only had to fall over the line (against Ulster) at the weekend. So it’s is going well and I’m just glad to get a bit of game-time.
“When I was at Connacht for three seasons we did particularly well against Leinster for some reason. It was easy to get up for the game.
“They have been extremely unlucky not to get wins from the games I have seen them play on TV this season. Even against Munster last weekend they were just struggling to get over the line. But once you get a couple of wins under your belt, then you start getting a rub of the green.
“I know they are on a bit of a losing streak at the minute but form goes out of the window in these type of derby games.
“Connacht will be targeting this game as a way to get the season back on track. From being in the Connacht changing room I know how hungry they are going to be for this game.”
Top Scorers – 2011/12 RaboDirect PRO12: Connacht – Points: Niall O’Connor 59; Tries: Gavin Duffy 3; Leinster – Points: Isa Nacewa 70; Tries: Ian Madigan 5
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Saturday, January 1, 2011 – Leinster 30 Connacht 8, the RDS
Saturday, October 8, 2011 – Leinster 30 Connacht 20, the RDS
– Connacht’s miserable run continued at Munster on St. Stephen’s Day with an eleventh successive defeat in all competitions
– Connacht have not won since they beat the Newport Gwent Dragons 17-13 at the Sportsground on September 23
– Conversely Leinster are undefeated in their last dozen encounters in all competitions, since their 23-19 defeat at Glasgow in the RaboDirect PRO12 on September 17
– The Leinstermen have lost just one regular season game to a fellow Irish province in the past two seasons
– Connacht’s only win over Leinster in their last six meetings was a 27-13 success at the Sportsground on April 21, 2010