Connacht target another major provincial scalp
Published 01/01/2016 | 02:30
Leinster and Connacht should serve up some New Year fireworks this evening with the Westerners seeking to make it third time lucky at an RDS venue where they have never won.
Coming on the back of two successive losses, Connacht's task is made harder by the fact that Leinster have lost just once at the venue in this tournament since March of 2013.
Nevertheless, Pat Lam's men gave Leinster an almighty scare here 12 months ago and were pressing valiantly for a winning score until gifting Zane Kirchner a bizarre late try.
And they also went close a year earlier before being undermined by indiscipline. Now riding high in second-place, Connacht retain high hopes of claiming another interpro scalp following their notable Limerick coup.
But they have won only once in Dublin in the professional era - a last-gasp drop goal from former Leinster player Mark McHugh gave them a 26-23 victory in Donnybrook in 2002 - and they have picked up just two losing bonus points in eight visits to the RDS.
However, Lam believes they can finally break their duck after impressive showings in the past couple of year and that historic win in Thomond Park.
"The first time that we have played up there in my time here, we were ahead 13-9 with minutes to go and we had two guys in the bin and they got a penalty try," he said.
"We had a tough day at the office with some calls and we lost that one. And then last year we right in it again so we have been there or thereabouts, (but) we haven't finished it.
"We honestly believe that we have got a game-plan that can give us a chance of winning. It is just about making sure on the day that we can perform."
Lam has made three alterations to the side that surrendered their flawless home record against Ulster last weekend.
All three of those switches come in the pack, where hooker Tom McCartney returns from injury.
Kiwi Jake Heenan, fit again after a shoulder injury, makes his first appearance this season at openside, with Andrew Browne coming back into the second-row.
The backline remains unchanged with Matt Healy, who has just signed a two-year contract extension, starting on the left wing.
Ireland flanker Sean O'Brien will make his 100th appearance for Leinster should he come off the replacements' bench, while Jack McGrath (knee), Johnny Sexton (quad) and Ben Te'o (concussion) have all been passed fit to start.
"We defended well in Munster but let them have too much ball," said Cullen. "We can't let Connacht have the ball, we have to control it better."
Connacht's doggedness is reflected by them garnering at least one point from each of their last 12 fixtures in the competition.
LEINSTER - R Kearney; F McFadden, G Ringrose, B Te'o, D Kearney; J Sexton, L McGrath; J McGrath, R Strauss, M Moore; D Toner, M McCarthy; R Ruddock (capt), J van der Flier, J Murphy. Reps: J Tracy, P Dooley, M Bent, R Molony, S O'Brien, E Reddan, I Madigan, Z Kirchner.
CONNACHT - T O'Halloran; N Adeolokun, B Aki, C Ronaldson, M Healy; J Carty, K Marmion; F Bealham, T McCartney, N White, A Muldowney, A Browne, J Muldoon (capt), J Heenan, E Masterson. Reps: D Heffernan, R Loughney, R Ah You, U Dillane, S O'Brien, I Porter, AJ MacGinty, R Parata.
REF - G Clancy (IRFU)
Leinster v Connacht, Live TG4, 5.0