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Blues must strike quickly to thwart Westerners' plan


Leinster head coach Matt O'Connor. Picture: Pat Murphy/SPORTSFILE

Leinster head coach Matt O'Connor. Picture: Pat Murphy/SPORTSFILE

Leinster head coach Matt O'Connor. Picture: Pat Murphy/SPORTSFILE

IN New Zealand rugby, winning is not only the thing, it is also the only thing. When Connacht smashed Toulouse in what could best be described as the greatest shock in the history of the Heineken Cup, coach Pat Lam did not quite get it.

The players were given no time or space to celebrate what for many will remember as the biggest achievement of their careers. They were brought straight back into line and reminded this was the benchmark, the standard they had set. This was the definition of their job, not an excuse to down a drink.

It was another in a lengthening list of 'no-nos' to follow Lam's public criticism of his players, opening a door into what should be the sanctuary of the dressing room.

There was also his questioning of the ambition of Leinster players who choose to play for their club in the British and Irish Cup rather than play first-team rugby in the PRO12 League, presumably for Connacht.

The simple truth is that Lam has not been able to turn Connacht around in the League in which two wins from eleven rounds finds them second-from-bottom.

In fairness, he has been badly hampered by a series of injuries that stretched Connacht's resources to breaking point long before the turn of the year.

While the Western province does not have the depth or quality to compete at the top, they can reserve their energies for matches that move them to miraculous feats.

Take Toulouse at Stade Ernest Wallon last month. Take Leinster at the Sportsground last season. They can save their best for the best.

This is where Leinster will have to be careful tomorrow. The players will have to match the intensity of those they know so well.

Coach Matt O'Connor will give his lot licence to play. He has given Jordi Murphy a chance to prove himself at openside, while Zane Kirchner moves to the wing. Brian O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy and Rob Kearney return to the side and fly-half Ian Madigan has been tasked with mastering the blustery conditions at the Sportsground.

Verdict: Leinster

Leinster: R Kearney; Z Kirchner, B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy, L Fitzgerald; I Madigan, E Reddan; J McGrath, S Cronin, M Moore, D Toner, T Denton, R Ruddock, J Murphy, J Heaslip (c).