With the nights drawing in and the weather getting colder, there should be plenty to warm you up when Leinster and Connacht collide in Saturday’s interprovincial derby at the RDS.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, October 26
LEINSTER (5th) v CONNACHT (11th), the RDS, 6.45pm (live RTÉ Two)
Team News: The Leinster team to face Connacht in Saturday evening’s RaboDirect PRO12 derby match at the RDS has been named.
The province’s management have opted to freshen things up for the visit of Connacht following the squad’s Heineken Cup exertions over the last fortnight.
Luke Fitzgerald starts at outside centre in a new midfield partnership alongside Noel Reid for the interprovincial clash.
Fitzgerald will make his 113th appearance for the province and he is joined in the back-line by fellow Ireland internationals Ian Madigan and Eoin Reddan who will be the starting half-backs this weekend.
Michael Bent will make his first start this season in a front row which includes Sean Cronin and Jack McGrath, who was called up to the Ireland squad for the GUINNESS Series earlier this week.
McGrath is one of two uncapped players in the pack alongside Quinn Roux and the team will again be led by number 8 Jamie Heaslip, who continues in the back row alongside Kevin McLaughlin and the in-form Sean O’Brien.
Shane Jennings has recovered from injury to take his place on a strong-looking replacements bench which includes the likes of Isaac Boss, Jimmy Gopperth, Mike McCarthy and South African international Zane Kirchner for the first time since his recent arrival.
Tickets sales for Saturday’s match are approaching the 16,000 mark. Tickets are on sale now online here and are also available from Active Sports (Blackrock), Spar (Donnybrook) and Ticketmaster outlets nationwide.
There will be specially themed Halloween events taking place around the ground before the match on Saturday including a Haunted House, trick or treat giveaways, vouchers and prizes for the best adult, family and fancy dress costume.
Events will start at 5pm when gates open and the game gets underway at 6.45pm. Adult tickets are priced at €;30, children’s tickets are €;10 and a family of four can gain admission for just €;70.
Meanwhile, there are three changes to the Connacht team that defeated Zebre 33-6 in last weekend’s Heineken Cup encounter in Parma.
Danie Poolman, who was forced to withdraw late this week due to a tight hamstring, is replaced on the right wing by Tiernan O’Halloran. Mayo man Gavin Duffy returns to the full-back position, replacing the injured James So’oialo.
Up front, Andrew Browne moves to the replacements to make way for one of Connacht’s try scorers against Zebre, Mata Fifita, who fills the blindside flanker berth.
On the bench, hooker David Heffernan is in line to make his first senior appearance. Utility back Darragh Leader is another addition to the matchday squad.
The 20-year-old Leader, who hails from Galway, made his first senior appearance away to the Ospreys this time last year.
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Fergus McFadden, Luke Fitzgerald, Noel Reid, David Kearney; Ian Madigan, Eoin Reddan; Jack McGrath, Sean Cronin, Michael Bent, Devin Toner, Quinn Roux, Kevin McLaughlin, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip (capt).
Replacements: Aaron Dundon, Jack O’Connell, Martin Moore, Mike McCarthy, Shane Jennings, Isaac Boss, Jimmy Gopperth, Zane Kirchner.
CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy; Tiernan O’Halloran, Robbie Henshaw, Craig Ronaldson, Matt Healy; Dan Parks, Kieran Marmion; Brett Wilkinson, Sean Henry, Rodney Ah You, Michael Swift (capt), Craig Clarke, Mata Fifita, Jake Heenan, George Naoupu.
Replacements: David Heffernan, JP Cooney, Ronan Loughney, Aly Muldowney, Andrew Browne, Paul O’Donohoe, Darragh Leader, Fionn Carr.
Referee: David Wilkinson (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Mark Patton, Barrie O’Connell (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Alan Rogan (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Leinster to win: 1/20; Draw: 40/1; Connacht to win: 8/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Jack McGrath (Leinster) – “Yeah, it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster week all right. It was great to get on (against Castres) last weekend and how we got on was even better. I’m just keeping my head down now, taking it step by step and looking forward to this Connacht game.
“I suppose it was a hard call for them (the Ireland management who selected him for a loosehead spot in the GUINNESS Series squad). It was 50-50, down to the wire. I got the nod this time (over David Kilcoyne).
“All I can do is try and impress, just keep my head down and keep working, keep playing well.
“With Joe (Schmidt), you never rest on your laurels. He always wants you to improve…you keep looking at your video and trying to find things to improve on.
“Connacht have strengths all over the pitch and I think their pack, especially, is one of them. They pride themselves on their scrum, lineout and work-rate so we can’t take them lightly.”
Pat Lam (Connacht) – “It’s been a pretty disruptive week with injuries and we’ve lost more players with none coming back into the frame. So once again, we’ve had to dig deep into our resources
“With James and Danie injured in the backs, we’ve lost our cover at outside centre. And so young Darragh Leader comes on to the bench after impressing for the Eagles last weekend. He’s been a big part of our training squad in recent weeks.
“Up front, Mata replaces Andrew Browne at six. Browney was unable to train fully this week due to a few knocks he picked up in the last game.
“But thankfully, with all the injuries we have to the back row, he recovered sufficiently to take his place on the bench.
“Dave Heffernan comes in as cover for hooker and this is a huge opportunity for him to make his mark.
“Coming up against Leinster at the RDS – it doesn’t get much bigger than that. The current Rabo champions, they’ve been consistently the best team in Europe for the last number of years.
“Full of internationals, we know their players will be out to stake a claim ahead of the November series. We know what we’re up against.
“But these are the type of games you relish and we can’t wait for the challenge. We have trained well on the back of a good win in the Heineken Cup and of course we have a plan to execute in order to give us the best opportunity to beat this team.”
Top Scorers – 2013/14 RaboDirect PRO12: Leinster – Points: Jimmy Gopperth 42; Tries: David Kearney 2; Connacht – Points: Dan Parks 29; Tries: Matt Healy 2
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Friday, September 28, 2012 – Connacht 34 Leinster 6, the Sportsground
Saturday, December 29, 2012 – Leinster 17 Connacht 0, the RDS
– Leinster have won three of their last four matches in all competitions, and are unbeaten at the RDS since Ulster were the visitors in March
– The Leinstermen were defeated in their only fixture with a fellow Irish province so far this season: 19-15 away to Munster in round 5
– Connacht’s five-match losing run in all competitions ended with their 33-6 victory over Zebre in Parma in the Heineken Cup last Saturday
– Connacht’s most recent away success in the RaboDirect PRO12 was 32-24 at Edinburgh in April
– Connacht have been defeated in their last six contests with fellow Irish provinces and have not beaten an Irish side away from home since winning 26-23 against Leinster at Donnybrook in September 2002
– Connacht’s only victory in their last six fixtures with Leinster was 34-6 in Galway last September