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Winning momentum key for Leinster as Cullen's charges bid for home semi-final

As John Muldoon brings the curtain down on a remarkable career, the eastern province are focused on their job in hand.

Leinster have won five from five in this year's inter-pros.
Leinster have won five from five in this year's inter-pros.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

AN EMOTIONALLY-CHARGED afternoon awaits at the Sportsground, but Leinster will look to detach themselves from the occasion and not make the same mistake they did last year in similar circumstances.

With a place already secured in the end-of-season playoffs, Leo Cullen’s side require just one point (less may be enough depending on Scarlets’ result against Dragons) to assure themselves of a home semi-final, and, just as significantly, next weekend off ahead of their Champions Cup final.

But any complacency heading to Galway for this afternoon’s Pro14 inter-pro [KO 3.05pm, TG4] will have been quickly erased when last year’s trip to Belfast was brought up in team meetings this week.

With the important business already done, Leinster fell below their usual standards against Ulster at this juncture 12 months ago and were blown away by a home side determined to send Ruan Pienaar and Roger Wilson off on a high.

It sucked the momentum out of Leinster’s encouraging season, one which ultimately ended in acute disappointment, as they suffered semi-final defeats in both competitions, so the importance of today will have been emphasised by Cullen and Stuart Lancaster throughout the week.

The Sportsground is sure to be rocking and while Connacht have had little to celebrate in Kieran Keane’s first season in charge there’s sure to be a real party atmosphere in Galway later as the province bid farewell to a true legend in John Muldoon.

The Portumna native will captain Connacht for the final time as the curtain draws on his remarkable career, which has spanned over 15 years and seen him represent the western province 326 times.

John Muldoon End of an era: Muldoon bids farewell to the Sportsground today. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

There is nothing tangible on the line for Keane’s charges in their final outing of the campaign but they will be hell-bent on finishing with a bang and heading into the summer months on the back of a victory which they can then build upon heading into next term.

And after five successive defeats since beating Benetton at the end of February, there is also the small matter of avoiding finishing bottom of Conference A, with seventh-placed Zebre just two points behind.

Muldoon will do everything within his power to ensure that doesn’t happen as he steps out in the green jersey for the final time before hanging up his boots and the number eight this week spoke about what will be a poignant afternoon.

“I just want to do the lads justice before I bow out at the Sportsground,” he said.

“It has actually crept up on me and I have had mixed emotions this week when I have gone into training with the lads.

“It’s been bittersweet getting ready for this game against Leinster. It has built up nicely towards a game against a phenomenal team and they were outstanding in their Champions Cup win over Scarlets again last weekend.

“It certainly won’t be easy to finish my career against them, but I am looking forward to getting stuck into my last game for my province.”

While Connacht have struggled for consistency this term and their results have shown that, Leinster have built up a serious head of steam and should have no problem in getting the job done to secure home advantage in the last four.

Not only have Cullen’s side won five from five in the inter-pros this season but have not lost to Connacht since the Pro12 final defeat in Murrayfield two years ago.

The visitors have rested a number of key players with one eye on Bilbao but their unrivalled resource pool means their starting XV still contains an exciting blend of experience and youth, with Jack McGrath named captain again.

Jack McGrath Jack McGrath captains Leinster again today. Source: Alex Davidson/INPHO

McGrath is one of five internationals named by Cullen with Joey Carbery at fullback, James Tracy, Andrew Porter and Jack Conan the others while Sean Cronin, Cian Healy, Devin Toner, Jordi Murphy, Jordan Larmour and Adam Byrne provide firepower on the bench.

Noel Reid makes his 100th appearance for Leinster — having made his debut in October 2011 — and Tom Daly returns for his seasonal debut outside him after recovering from an ACL injury.

“As an organisation, we’re in a good spot,” John Fogarty said. “That’s what we’ve worked all season for, to be able to put ourselves in a position to be successful, and ultimately to win something.

“We need to deal with the emotion of last week and now focus our attention on preparing to play in a game that’s going to be hugely emotional, with John Muldoon finishing his career on Connacht.

“We do a job in Galway, we can then step back into the Champions Cup and take some time to prepare, because we’re going to need to.”

Connacht:

15. Tiernan O’Halloran
14. Niyi Adeolokun
13. Tom Farrell
12. Bundee Aki
11. Matt Healy
10. Jack Carty
9. Kieran Marmion

1. Denis Buckley
2. Shane Delahunt
3. Finlay Bealham
4. Gavin Thornbury
5. Quinn Roux
6. Eoin McKeon
7. Jarrad Butler
8. John Muldoon (captain)

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Replacements:

16. Tom McCartney
17. Peter McCabe
18. Conor Carey
19. Ultan Dillane
20. Eoghan Masterson
21. Caolin Blade
22. Craig Ronaldson
23. Darragh Leader

Leinster:

15. Joey Carbery
14. Barry Daly
13. Tom Daly
12. Noel Reid
11. James Lowe
10. Ross Byrne
9. Nick McCarthy

1. Jack McGrath (captain)
2. James Tracy
3. Andrew Porter
4. Ross Molony
5. Mick Kearney
6. Max Deegan
7. Peadar Timmins
8. Jack Conan

Replacements:

16. Seán Cronin
17. Cian Healy
18. Michael Bent
19. Devin Toner
20. Jordi Murphy
21. Jamison Gibson-Park
22. Jordan Larmour
23. Adam Byrne

 

Referee: Andrew Brace [IRFU]

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‘Loyalty, leadership, heart and passion’: Connacht produce fitting Muldoon tribute video

‘The injury has come on leaps and bounds’: McGrath on track for Champions Cup final

About the author:

Ryan Bailey

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