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'They rightly spanked us': Leinster vow to show attitude in defence to avert wild west shoot-out

Connacht v Leinster feels a little spicier than usual.

Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

WELL THIS IS bubbling up nicely, isn’t it?

The advent of an extra round of pre-European inter-pros means derby day comes around a little earlier this year and the clash at the Sportsground (kick-off 5.15pm, TG4/ eir Sport) is set to kick the serious portion of the season off with a bang.

Even this early in a campaign, Andy Friend looks to have made the right tweaks – small as he insists they have been - to get his side humming in a win over Scarlets that was surprisingly dominant.

Leinster are Leinster. Their round two loss to Scarlets is as long-forgotten as last season’s home loss to Benetton. But, crucially, the lingering pain of seven-try thrashing in Galway in April remains.

“This is a huge test of us to go away from home against a team who – 47-10 last year – rightly spanked us. We have to be mentally ready to perform,” says Leinster scrum coach John Fogarty, himself no stranger to the invective found within a dressing room when a near and dear neighbour is across the hall.

John Fogarty Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Between stints in his native province of Munster and donning Leinster gear under Michael Cheika, Fogarty spent five years in Connacht’s front row. In so many ways it was a very different time, but common threads remain.

“When I was down there it was a game you were always massively up for. Physically, you wanted to dominate that game. Knowing there was probably a bit of class on the pitch that we couldn’t contend with, so we had to do it a different way.

“I don’t think that is the case now. The squad right now and the place in Connacht is so different. They have quality players playing a really dangerous brand of rugby.”

In the middle of that answer, Fogarty added an extra disclaimer that he was speaking in the past tense, lest anyone listening on believe he was assessing the western province in their current guise. These days, on top of the physicality every team aims for, Connacht have shown the will to attack with venom and width that yielded a title in 2016. And to that mix they have added a more conventional approach to game management.

“They play a high-tempo game where they try and stretch you in attack and defence. A lot of ball in play. There’ll be a great atmosphere down there, they’ll be very confrontational.

John Fogarty Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“Bundee (Aki) has played unbelievably well, played a big part against Scarlets.

“We’re expecting a very physical game that’s going to massively test us in attack and defence. But we’re looking forward to it. Where we are, we’re trying to build cohesion into what we do so that we can arrive in the biggest part of the season ready to go.”

The squad Leinster have selected has added extra spice to the rivalry and raised the stakes a few notches higher today. Having sent an under-strength side down the M6 last time around, head coach Leo Cullen has pulled no punches – except perhaps for Robbie Henshaw, the only front-liner fit and absent.

In Henshaw’s space, Joe Tomane may well provide a target for Connacht to go at. Bundee Aki certainly won’t need much of an invite to lay his inimitable physical stamp on the game. He has rattled Johnny Sexton before and his head coach didn’t sound ready to rein in the Grand Slam-winning centre after last Saturday’s enormous performance.

“He’s a player you want on your side, not playing against,” said Friend of the centre he reckons “puts the fear of god” in opponents.

“I know the young 10 (Rhys) Patchell, he’ll be having nightmares, there was a clean-out on him early on which… if you miss that shot he decides to put his head in more rucks, but if you give him the whack he got, he questions whether he’s going into that ruck.

After that, Bundee tackles him and puts him under pressure, then runs over the top of him. All of a sudden, I don’t care who you are as a player, you start to ask questions: “Do I really want to be in his contest?”

“That wasn’t the reason we won the contest but it certainly gave us confidence to go forward it was a really good statement to make early on.”

Connacht will need statements like that littered throughout this afternoon’s match. From the first whistle to the moment Sean O’Brien gets in the game, and beyond.

Connacht

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

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1. Denis Buckley
2. Dave Heffernan Capt.
3. Finlay Bealham
4. Ultan Dillane
5. Quinn Roux
6. Sean O’Brien
7. Colby Fainga’a
8. Robin Copeland

Replacements:

16. Tom McCartney
17. Peter McCabe
18. Dominic Robertson-McCoy
19. James Cannon
20. Paul Boyle
21. Caolin Blade
22. Craig Ronaldson
23. Niyi Adeolokun

Leinster

15. Rob Kearney
14. Jordan Larmour
13. Garry Ringrose
12. Joe Tomane
11. James Lowe
10. Johnny Sexton Capt
9. Luke McGrath

1. Cian Healy
2. Seán Cronin
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Devin Toner
5. Scott Fardy
6. Rhys Ruddock
7. Josh van der Flier
8. Jack Conan

Replacements:

16. James Tracy
17. Ed Byrne
18. Andrew Porter
19. Ross Molony
20. Seán O’Brien
21. Nick McCarthy
22. Ross Byrne
23. Rory O’Loughlin

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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