Leinster's Caelan Doris and James Lowe. James Crombie/INPHO
second leg

Connacht must muster a huge upset with Leinster the firm favourites in Dublin

The returns of Andrew Porter and Rónan Kelleher will likely add to Leinster’s power.

LET’S NOT BEAT around the bush. A Connacht win against Leinster at the Aviva Stadium this evening [KO 5.30pm, BT Sport] that also overturns their five-point deficit from the first leg would be up there as one of the great upsets in European club rugby.

Andy Friend’s side won’t be viewing it as a mission impossible, but Leinster are the 20-point favourites in most quarters. It’s a mountainous task for the western province.

They have defied expectations before and even last weekend’s narrow defeat in Galway was a far better outcome than lots of people had fearing pre-match. 

Connacht also showed enough firepower to concern Leinster in ways we haven’t always seen them concerned this season. The opening two minutes of Connacht attack was sensational, with their interplay between very connected forwards and backs stretching Leinster to breaking point before wing John Porch crossed.

Friend’s men could also have gone ahead again in the second half when Jamison Gibson-Park was in the sin bin, with lock Oisín Dowling just inches away from dotting down what would have been a wonderful score.

With the talismanic Bundee Aki having gained another 80 minutes of match sharpness, Mack Hansen in flying form, Denis Buckley back on the bench to strengthen the matchday 23, and Caolin Blade handed a start at nine to bring his running threat into the game, there are reasons for Connacht to have belief.

All of that said, Leinster should have enough quality to drive on into the Champions Cup quarter-finals.

caolin-blade Caolin Blade starts for Connacht. Ben Brady / INPHO Ben Brady / INPHO / INPHO

An already glittering starting XV has been boosted by the returns of leading Ireland internationals Andrew Porter and Rónan Kelleher to the front row. They haven’t played since suffering injuries during the Six Nations but there’s no doubting their quality and the additional power they bring to Leinster’s matchday squad.

Having had his citing for last weekend’s high tackle on Kieran Marmion dismissed, Gibson-Park also comes into the Leinster starting team in place of Luke McGrath and he will look to ensure the game is played at a lightning-quick tempo.

Leinster’s flurry of brilliant attack in the first half that resulted in two tries for James Lowe in four minutes underlined exactly how dangerous they can be, but there is much more to this team.

Their scrum demolished Connacht before Hugo Keenan’s second-half try, the lineout was largely slick, while their kicking game put Friend’s men in uncomfortable positions. Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster will be keen to see a season-best defensive performance from their Leinster team today as they look to put down a big marker in Europe.

With England’s vocal Luke Pearce on the whistle, the hope is that Connacht can muster enough on the road in Dublin to trade blows with this potent Leinster team in another thriller of a tie, but the sense is that Cullen’s crew should have enough about them to get this job done. 


  • 15. Hugo Keenan
  • 14. Jimmy O’Brien
  • 13. Garry Ringrose
  • 12. Robbie Henshaw
  • 11. James Lowe
  • 10. Johnny Sexton (captain)
  • 9. Jamison Gibson-Park
  • 1. Andrew Porter
  • 2. Rónan Kelleher
  • 3. Tadhg Furlong
  • 4. Ross Molony
  • 5. Josh Murphy
  • 6. Caelan Doris
  • 7. Josh van der Flier
  • 8. Jack Conan


  • 16. Dan Sheehan
  • 17. Ed Byrne
  • 18. Michael Ala’alatoa
  • 19. Devin Toner
  • 20. Rhys Ruddock
  • 21. Luke McGrath
  • 22. Ross Byrne
  • 23. Ciarán Frawley


  • 15. Tiernan O’Halloran
  • 14. John Porch
  • 13. Tom Farrell
  • 12. Bundee Aki
  • 11. Mack Hansen
  • 10. Jack Carty (captain)
  • 9. Caolin Blade
  • 1. Matthew Burke
  • 2. Dave Heffernan
  • 3. Finlay Bealham
  • 4. Gavin Thornbury
  • 5. Leva Fifita
  • 6. Cian Prendergast
  • 7. Conor Oliver
  • 8. Jarrad Butler


  • 16. Jonny Murphy
  • 17. Denis Buckley
  • 18. Jack Aungier
  • 19. Oisín Dowling
  • 20. Abraham Papali’i
  • 21. Kieran Marmion
  • 22. Sammy Arnold
  • 23. Conor Fitzgerald 

Referee: Luke Pearce [RFU].

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