Leinster v Connacht, RDS, Friday, 7.45pm - Live TG4 and Premier Sports
Lightning, goes the saying, tends not to strike twice, and Leinster tend not to lose twice in a row. Although it did happen last April/May against Munster in the Rainbow Cup and then La Rochelle, it has never happened to them at the RDS.
In making 10 changes in personnel to an all-international XV following last week's defeat by Ulster, as well as restoring Rónan Kelleher and Andrew Porter to the bench, Leinster have made their intentions clear. A week out from their December marquee fixture against Bath at the Aviva Stadium, they are pretty much as locked and loaded as they could be.
Jamison Gibson-Park came through training this week and should be available for next week. Johnny Sexton and Jack Conan might return the following week away to Montpellier.
As James Ryan is still adhering to World Rugby guidelines, which has included seeing an independent concussion consultant, there is no clear timeframe on his return.
Beaten here by Connacht last January, Leinster won't lack for motivation. "The guys were pretty gutted afterwards last week because it only takes the smallest percentage to be off against a team that's highly motivated, like Ulster were, and like we know Connacht will be this week, exactly the same," said Leo Cullen on Thursday.
“It’s been a short week for us to prepare but we just need to get going now into this block and get excited about the challenge, and playing in front of a home crowd. There’s plenty of doom and gloom out there in the world at the moment, as we know, so it’s getting back and creating that connection with our supporters, and going out and doing great things on a rugby pitch, and that’s what the team wants to do. I’m sure that’s what the fans that turn up and pay good money to watch the team play, that’s what they want to see as well.”
Connacht arrive on the back of sparkling bonus-point wins either side of the Autumn Series hiatus over Ulster and the Ospreys. Andy Friend has made three changes, promoting centre Peter Robb, lock Oisín Dowling and Eoghan Masterson, who replaces the injured Paul Boyle, with Jarrad Butler moving to eight.
Ulster won here with a restricted if well-executed game plan, playing territory and retaining possession, before upping their line speed in forcing errors from their misfiring hosts.
But true to Friend's mantra of fast/relentless/adaptable, Connacht are committed to their ambitious ball-in-hand brand of rugby. Jack Carty, one of five internationals in Connacht's side, has a liking for this venue, having scored 39 points on his last two visits here. In December 2018 he contributed handsomely to a 29-12 lead with 12 minutes remaining before Porter completed Leinster's late three-try salvo in overtime after 41 phases, while last time Carty scored 25 points in their 35-24 win.
Yet to put last January’s win in context, it is Connacht’s only victory in the last six clashes between the two; it was sandwiched by Leinster twice running up a half century against them, and it was their only win on Leinster soil since September 2002.
Accordingly, Paddy Power makes Leinster 1-10 favourites, with Connacht 6-1 to spring another surprise.
LEINSTER: H Keenan; J Larmour, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, J Lowe; H Byrne, L McGrath (capt); C Healy, D Sheehan, M Ala'alatoa; R Baird, D Toner; R Ruddock, J van der Flier, C Doris.
Replacements: R Kelleher, A Porter, V Abdaladze, J Murphy, M Deegan, N McCarthy, R Byrne, TO'Brien.
CONNACHT: O McNulty; A Wootton, S Arnold, P Robb, M Hansen; J Carty (capt), K Marmion; M Burke, D Heffernan, F Bealham; O Dowling, U Dillane; E Masterson, C Oliver, J Butler.
Replacements: S Delahunt, J Duggan, J Aungier, L Fifita, C Prendergast, C Blade, C Fitzgerald, T Farrell.
Referee: Chris Busby (IRFU)
Forecast: Leinster to win.