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Dublin: 11°C Thursday 6 May 2021

Powerful Leinster team to provide firm test of Connacht's progress

For all the positivity around the western province, a win this evening would be the greatest indicator of improvement.

Rob Kearney will look to pick up from his excellent performance last weekend.
Rob Kearney will look to pick up from his excellent performance last weekend.
Image: Inpho/Billy Stickland

FOR ALL THE positivity around Connacht at present, this evening’s Guinness Pro12 clash against Leinster will provide us with a few more answers as to how much progress they have truly made since last season.

Summer recruitment and two wins from two against the Dragons and Edinburgh have the western province riding into tonight’s game on a crest of good will, but a strong Leinster side should put them to an altogether sterner test.

Just two changes from last weekend’s victory over the Scarlets allows Matt O’Connor’s men continuity in performance, with the excellent displays of the returning Rob Kearney and captain Jamie Heaslip against Welsh opposition boding well.

Ian Madigan retains the 12 shirt, affording us another glimpse of a potential long-term move, while the superb loosehead Jack McGrath again starts ahead of Cian Healy, who will be itching to get back to his best when he appears off the bench.

Gordon D’Arcy’s inclusion as a replacement is another exciting element, and there is strength throughout O’Connor’s match-day squad.

Eoin Reddan’s suggestion that Leinster travel as underdogs is a stretch, although Connacht’s opening performances of the season have included many impressive elements, none more so than the last-gap maul try to beat Edinburgh last weekend.

“Their finish to the game at the weekend – being able to back yourself, kick to the corner and maul that ball over – was exactly what you want,” says Reddan.

LeinsterÕs Eoin Reddan Reddan is on the bench for Leinster this evening, with Isaac Boss preferred at 9. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

“10 out of 10 for execution, a lot of work goes into that, a lot of game knowledge and accuracy from people who were within the maul. That’s what you’re expecting at the very top level.”

Should Connacht be able to continue that set-piece strength – their scrum also performed well in Scotland, with Denis Buckley continuing to impress – their chances of a home win will be greatly boosted.

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Heaslip has admired the Connacht maul in the last two weekends, identifying it as an area where Leinster have focused much of their training under forwards coach Leo Cullen this week.

In an overall sense, Heaslip is certain that Connacht have moved forward since last season.

“I think they’re going really well,” says Heaslip. “They’re doing their basics really well. They’ve a really good defence, an aggressive defence, especially off the sidelines. They’re not showing, from the video anyway, a lot of holes.

“They pick and choose their times to go at the ball but they have such confidence in their defensive line that they don’t chase hard at that. They might change that coming up against us, because we like to play with quick ball.

LeinsterÕs Jamie Heaslip Heaslip has been impressed by Connacht's start to the season. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

“With the ball, they’re just being clinical. They’re just doing their basics really, really well, more so than in previous years and they have some exciting players as well. Kieran [Marmion] is really coming into his own. He is someone we’re going to have to look to as well as [John] Muldoon. He’s the essence of what that club is all about, their culture.”

That same culture is something Lam has concentrated on promoting throughout his squad as they look to keep their early season momentum rolling on. Whatever about Leinster’s complimentary sentiments, there will be little love lost at the Sportsground.

Connacht v Leinster kicks off at 19.35 this evening, with the IRFU’s John Lacey refereeing.

Connacht: Darragh Leader, Niyi Adeolokun, Robbie Henshaw, Dave McSharry, Danie Poolman; Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan, Nathan White; Aly Muldowney, Quinn Roux; John Muldoon (capt.), Willie Faloon, Eoin McKeon.

Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Ronan Loughney, Rodney Ah You, Mick Kearney, George Naoupu, Ian Porter, Craig Ronaldson, Matt Healy.

Leinster: Rob Kearney; Fergus McFadden, Brendan Macken, Ian Madigan, Darragh Fanning; Jimmy Gopperth, Isaac Boss; Jack McGrath, Sean Cronin, Mike Ross; Devin Toner, Mike McCarthy; Rhys Ruddock, Dominic Ryan, Jamie Heaslip (capt.).

Replacements: Bryan Byrne, Cian Healy, Tadhg Furlong, Tom Denton, Shane Jennings, Eoin Reddan, Gordon D’Arcy, Mick McGrath.

Lam’s infectious energy setting the tone for reinvigorated Connacht

Analysis: Matt O’Connor looks for growth in Leinster’s attacking structure

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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