SIXTH PLAYS TENTH at the RDS but do not tell the players involved.
Leinster are in the unusual position of lying 16 points adrift at the midpoint of the season while Connacht’s last league win was back in early November.
Having personally witnessed Leinster’s 59-22 win over Cardiff Blues and Connacht’s 22-14 Heineken Cup win over Biarritz, I am somewhat perplexed by their league positions.
Joe Schmidt’s side, however, are just two points shy of Munster in third position while Connacht have created, and spurned, enough match-winning positions to comfortably sit mid-table.
Here are the three battles that should decide this evening’s clash:
Snow on the ball
With the Leinster back three comprising of occasional fullback Andrew Conway, interchangeable winger Fergus McFadden and defensively weak Fionn Carr, both Dan Parks and Robbie Henshaw will be pumping a lot of high balls into the skies above Dublin 4.
Conway has done well on the wing for the Blues this season but he faces a tricky evening’s work if the Connacht pack can give Parks the space he needs to cause havoc in the Leinster backline.
With Fetu’u Vainikolo out injured and Tiernan O’Halloran on the bench, expect similar kick and chase tactics from Leinster’s half-backs Isaac Boss and Ian Madigan.
Tom Court never publicly complained after his international axing but he clearly went into last weekend’s inter-pro clash with his own blade to grind. The Ulster man outshone Michael Bent and his opposite number.
The situation on the other side of the front row was not much better as Cian Healy was given a couple of rude awakenings by John Afoa.
Connacht’s pack looked impressive in the Heineken Cup outings against Biarritz but Munster effectively neutralised one of their biggest weapons when the play at the Sportsground.
The Connacht front row bested Leinster during their 34-6 win in September and Jason Harris-Wright stepping in for Adrian Flavin means the unit offers a genuine threat.
Leinster, on the other hand, will be relying on Heinke van der Merwe to hold up his side while hoping Bent can show the scrummaging form that silenced the doubters after his Ireland call-up in November.
Leinster are second only to Ulster for points and tries scored in this season’s campaign but have only scored three tries in for Heineken Cup outings.
When Joe Schmidt’s side are in form they are breathtaking but that has, arguably, only been in four of 15 games this season. The line-breaking talents of Rob Kearney, Brian O’Driscoll and Luke Fitzgerald have been sorely missed.
Leinster have also leaked 28 tries, the fourth worst record in the league — only Cardiff, Newport and Zebre have conceded more.
That record should be a fillip for a Connacht side that has scored just 15 league tries this season.
Poor technique from Vainikolo and George Naoupu cost them last weekend against Munster and coach Eric Elwood will know that every chance will count at the RDS.