Leinster aiming to extend proud PRO12 home record

In-form Connacht arrive in confident form but have never won at the RDS

And so they meet again.

A reprise of last year’s unlikely final and Connacht’s stylish and memorable coronation as champions both still rankles with Leinster and reverberates through Connacht.

Despite upcoming international distractions, this clash has clearly whetted the appetite of the supporters.

There are over 17,000 tickets sold for this Saturday tea-time kick-off and the manner in which Connacht have rediscovered the entertaining brand of running rugby means they travel with more hope than is perhaps normally the case.


Four successive wins have been augmented by the signature re-signings of Bundee Aki and Ultan Dillane.

That said, despite their regular enough scalping of Leinster in Galway, Connacht’s treks to the capital have not been so bountiful. They have never won at the RDS, and have not beaten Leinster in Dublin since a 26-23 win at Donnybrook in September 2002 under Steph Nel.

Successive wins

While recent history is encouraging, Connacht having also beaten Leinster 7-6 at the Sportsground toward the end of the season, they haven’t accumulated three successive wins against their rivals from the east since the two first met in 1931.

Furthermore, Leinster are unbeaten in their last 18 home games in the PRO12, including a run of 16 successive victories.

“It would mean a lot to me personally if we could finally get the victory at the RDS on Saturday evening,” says Connacht skills coach Ellis.

“I remember when I first turned up, beating one of the provincial rivals was a real goal. That was the biggest thing you could do, just to get one win, and here we are going for five in a row. I would love to win up there, just as a reward for all the hard work that the boys are putting in. And to show that we are the real deal.”

Regarding their home record against Connacht, Leo Cullen maintained: "It doesn't count for a huge amount, no. Unless you actually go out and make it count for something, but when you play at home there's the sense of familiarity and the home comforts, and the routine."

Playing front of family and friends, he added, is “special, and that has to count for something. Players have talked a lot about that over the course of pre-season, and into the early season, and making the RDS a special place to play for us. Players will try and back that up with the actions that they deliver on the field.”

Ten changes

Leinster make ten changes in total from the team that faced Montpellier in the Champions Cup last Sunday, with captain

Isa Nacewa

the only back retained, as he moves from the left wing to fullback.

The four forwards retained are the front-row of Cian Healy, Sean Cronin and Mike Ross, along with Sean O'Brien.

All bar Ross are in the 34-man Irish squad named this week, as are James Tracy, Josh van der Flier, Luke McGrath and Rob Kearney, who are all on the bench.

As significantly perhaps, with Chicago in mind, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Johnny Sexton, Devin Toner and Jamie Heaslip, who all started last week, are rested, as is Jack McGrath and Jordi Murphy, all on the bench last week, and the injured Tadhg Furlong.

Their 16th member of that Irish squad, Joey Carbery, starts alongside Jamison Gibson-Park.

UCD's Adam Byrne makes his first start of the season on the right wing with fellow UCD man Barry Daly making his first Leinster start on the left having already made an appearance off the bench in Cardiff.

Daly has scored four tries in two games for the Leinster ‘A’ team over the last two weekends in the British & Irish Cup.

Tiernan O'Halloran, who missed out last week through injury, returns to Connacht's starting line-up as one of three personnel changes, with Cian Kelleher, one of several in the visitors' ranks reared in Leinster, shifting to the left wing in a pacey back-three completed by Niyi Adeolokun, arguably Connacht's player of the season so far.

Up front, Dave Heffernan and Conor Carey come into the front row in an otherwise unchanged pack. Their 28-year-old ex-Wasps lock James Cannon will make his Connacht debut should he feature from the bench.

“When they get into their shape, they’re difficult to play against,” admitted Cullen.

“When we sat off them in the final last year, we found it difficult defending against them. It is important we are on-point. We talked about it a lot this week.”

Settled side

Connacht have rediscovered their mojo, arrive in confident form and are the more settled side.

But Leinster’s form at the RDS, especially in this fixture, has to count for something, and although Bundee Aki could constitute the ultimate in impact off the bench, he clearly can’t be 100 per cent right after missing last week’s excursion to Zebre with a calf strain.

By contrast, despite all their reshuffling and the callow look of their reconstructed backline, Leinster have kept a fair amount of impact on their bench, which could be significant.

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times