Champions Leinster look too strong for injury-hit Connacht
Reddan and Madigan form hungry half-back partnership and Luke Fitzgerald to start at centre
Leinster’s Ian Madigan will hope to impress at home to Connacht. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
For some curious reason Connacht have tended to take Leinster’s scalp more readily than those of their other inter-provincial rivals, but having stunned the would-be Pro12 champions by 34-6 in Galway last September, thereafter they hardly landed a punch in five Irish derbies. Indeed, in what must have been one of the regrets of their season, on Connacht’s three treks to their rival provinces, they did not even land a three-pointer.
Connacht only accrued one bonus point in five ensuing Irish derbies, losing 25-0, 17-0 and 22-0 away to Ulster, Leinster and Munster. Indeed Connacht have not won away against one of their fellow provinces since a 26-23 victory over Leinster at Donnybrook in September 2002, and whereas they haven’t won on the road in the league since April, Leinster are unbeaten at home since March.
Nor have Connacht’s hopes been helped this evening by the fallout from last week’s win away to Zebre. The hamstrung Danie Poolman (last season’s leading try scorer and this season’s joint leading try scorer) has joined James So’oialo on an extensive injury list now numbering 13 players.
Pat Lam has recalled Tiernan O’Halloran to the wing and Gavin Duffy to full back, which highlights their improved strength in depth, with the 20-year-old Daragh Leader on the bench.
With hooker Jason Harris-Wright also sidelined, Dave Heffernan is in line to make his debut off the bench. Mata Fifita, one of last week’s try scorers, comes in for Andrew Browne, whose training was restricted this week.
Matt O’Connor makes seven changes from the team which recorded a somewhat unconvincing and flattering win over Castres. Noel Reid and Luke Fitzgerald form a new midfield partnership, as do Eoin Reddan and Ian Madigan at half-back. Up front, new Irish squad member Jack McGrath is called up, as is Michael Bent for his first game of the season, with Quinn Roux in the second-row.
Despite resting four current Irish squad members, Leinster still have eight in their starting line-up, compared to Connacht’s Robbie Henshaw. That this includes a back-row of Kevin McLaughlin, Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip would also appear to be a statement of intent after a run of one win in four league games.
Furthermore, Shane Jennings returns to a strong replacements bench which includes Isaac Boss, Jimmy Gopperth, ex-Connachtman Mike McCarthy and South African international Zane Kirchner.
“Coming up against Leinster at the RDS – it doesn’t get much bigger than that,” admitted Pat Lam.
“But these are the type of games you relish and we can’t wait for the challenge.”
Connacht will bring a decent test, not least up front. But with Eoin Reddan, Ian Madigan, Luke Fitzgerald and co straining at the leash to make an impression, Leinster should again have way more strings to their bow.