Sunday 24 September 2017

Home comforts can see Connacht edge stormy battle

Ultan Dillane, Connacht. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Ultan Dillane, Connacht. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Nothing unusual about a top two clash in the Pro12 selling out despite being on Sky, with a World Cup final referee in tandem and a host of internationals lining out to boot.

Nothing unusual, that is, until you factor Connacht into the equation as hosts. The over-performing outfit stand apart from their under-performing rivals; today's winners will finish the weekend as league leaders; few will be that surprised if the west remains fully awake.

Robbie Henshaw only returned to training on Thursday; there is a bigger picture for Pat Lam's men and he is only risked from the bench; breakthrough international star Ultan Dillane (shoulder) is not risked at all.

This is not the be all and end all for Connacht's season; they are no longer about rejoicing in the occasional scalp. Persistence and consistency are their new watchwords. A mini inter-provincial series in the next few weeks will determine much Pro12 business; after tonight, both of these teams will host Munster and travel to Ulster.

Connacht began the season with European ambitions; defeats for Edinburgh and Ospreys this weekend will be watched just as eagerly; it will allow breathing space should a clear gap emerge between top and bottom six.

Then they can start jostling for a play-off place in earnest. For now, they will maintain their enterprising spirit although Storm Katie's menacing presence may force them to limit their ambition.

Lam makes just two changes from the side that secured a bonus-point win in Edinburgh last time out, their fifth of six with a try bonus. Academy member Peter Robb comes in for Craig Ronaldson; Niyi Adeolokun returns from injury at the expense of Danie Poolman on the wing.

Robb makes his Pro12 debut; he is a mammoth man for his tender years and his clash with Ben Te'o could be stupendous.

Leinster welcome back Luke Fitzgerald after he missed the entire Six Nations with knee trouble and, while Jonathan Sexton is rested, their bench still includes eight full internationals.

That Leinster are "only" two-point favourites reflects how Connacht have narrowed the competitive gap.

Verdict: Connacht

Connacht - T O'Halloran; N Adeolokun, B Aki, P Robb, M Healy; AJ MacGinty, K Marmion; D Buckley, T McCartney, N White; Q Roux , A Muldowney; S O'Brien, J Heenan, J Muldoon (capt). Reps: D Heffernan, R Loughney, F Bealham, A Browne, E McKeon, C Blade, S O'Leary, R Henshaw.

Leinster - I Nacewa (capt); F McFadden, G Ringrose, B Te'o, L Fitzgerald; I Madigan, L McGrath; C Healy, R Strauss, T Furlong; R Molony, H Triggs; D Ryan, J van der Flier, R Ruddock. Reps: S Cronin, J McGrath, M Ross, D Toner, J Heaslip, E Reddan, N Reid, Z Kirchner.

Ref - N Owens (WRU)

Connacht v Leinster, Live, TG4/Sky Sports 1, 5.15pm

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