Last time Leinster traveled out west, they were on the receiving end of a 34-6 humbling, so there is little chance of them underestimating the challenge Connacht pose tonight. Despite last weekend’s win over Ulster, Matt O’Connor’s men are still searching for their best form.
However, Connacht will have been buoyed by their late bonus point in Thomond Park last time out, and the Galway crowd loves any sniff of an upset. As well as the inter-provincial element, individual players will be aiming to stand out as the Heineken Cup and Six Nations draw close.
These are three of the head-to-heads we are excited about.
Jack Carty v Ian Madigan
Carty’s inclusion in the Connacht team is one of the major talking points ahead of this evening’s inter-pro, but the increasingly weak form of Dan Parks in recent weeks made a change at out-half necessary. In what will be his first start in senior professional rugby, the 21-year-old will be asked to ensure that Connacht’s kicking game is tightened up.
Opposite him is another talented Irish out-half in Ian Madigan, who returns to the Leinster side having been on the bench for the win against Ulster last weekend. After Ian Keatley and Paddy Jackson went head-to-head last night in Ravenhill, Madigan will be eager to dominate this clash as the Six Nations looms. His experience might be the difference.
John Muldoon v Jordi Murphy
For the majority of Connacht’s biggest wins over the last 10 years or so, Muldoon has been an integral figure. The 31-year-old has demonstrated his barely-believable work rate on countless occasions for the western province, even if the results have so often failed to reward his effort. Muldoon’s powerful defensive skills will be needed at the Sportsground this evening.
Murphy starts alongside captain Jamie Heaslip in Leinster’s back row. ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan.
At openside for Leinster is Jordi Murphy, who was man of the match last weekend against Ulster. The 22-year-old was wonderful with ball in hand from his natural position of No. 8 at the RDS, but he will make his third start for Leinster in the seven shirt against Connacht. Still, it is likely that Leinster will continue to use the explosive prospect as a primary ball carrier.
Robbie Henshaw v Brian O’Driscoll
The young pretender against the master. Henshaw has been touted as a potential long-term replacement for O’Driscoll in the green of Ireland, but he still has plenty to prove at provincial level as an outside centre. His power in contact should test out the veteran’s defence but dealing with O’Driscoll’s intelligence will be hugely demanding.
The Leinster man was generous with his time in tutoring Henshaw during Ireland’s November Test series, but will be confident of giving the 20-year-old a more practical lesson in Galway this evening. O’Driscoll is in good form this season, although he will be aware that no one is guaranteed a place in Joe Schmidt’s Ireland side.
Connacht: Darragh Leader; Fionn Carr, Robbie Henshaw, Eoin Griffin, Matt Healy; Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; Brett Wilkinson, Jason Harris-Wright, Nathan White; Mick Kearney, Craig Clarke (Captain); 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 (Captain).
Replacements: Aaron Dundon, Jack O’Connell, Mike Ross, Mike McCarthy, Dominic Ryan, Isaac Boss, Jimmy Gopperth, Dave Kearney.
Like rugby? Follow TheScore.ie’s dedicated Twitter account @rugby_ie >