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Brent Pope: Blues have chance to answer critics

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Leinster player Jack McGrath, Darragh Fanning and Michael Bent with 14 year old Dean O'Connor and his father Brian, from Leixlip, Co. Kildare, during a visit to Temple Street Children's Hospital.

Leinster player Jack McGrath, Darragh Fanning and Michael Bent with 14 year old Dean O'Connor and his father Brian, from Leixlip, Co. Kildare, during a visit to Temple Street Children's Hospital.

Leinster player Jack McGrath, Darragh Fanning and Michael Bent with 14 year old Dean O'Connor and his father Brian, from Leixlip, Co. Kildare, during a visit to Temple Street Children's Hospital.

TONIGHT, Leinster try to protect an impressive record in the RDS against uber-confident Connacht looking to push their claims for European Champions Cup action year in 2015 through the Pro 12.

Just two places and one point behind the Blues in this year's pecking order, Connacht have enjoyed their s best ever start to a season and under coach Pat Lam will be trying desperately to plot a first ever win on Leinster rugby's home patch.

How Leinster would like to bottle some of the Galway men's current passion and camaraderie. The way in which Connacht are playing signifies a team that is gelling together and playing for each other. It was very evident in their dramatic last -inute win in France last week, where a bunch of relative newbies more than stepped up to the plate, giving the Kiwi coach plenty of selection options before the pre-Christmas derby.

Usually at this time of the year, Leinster coach Matt O'Connor may have been afforded the luxury of being able to rest some of his star players, but with so many injuries (further compounded this week by the loss of Rhys Ruddock), O' Connor will have to field his strongest team just to win this match.

EXCELLENT JOB

Pat Lam and his team, including the talismanic ex-All Black fullback Mils Muliania, have done an excellent job in combining experience and youth, attracting big-name foreign stars and also retaining Irish internationals such as Robbie Henshaw, Kieran Marmion and Rodney Ah You.

It is paying huge dividends in the west. It is a testament to the Galway based franchise that top players can now feel that if they stay in Connacht then they will still be selected for national teams.

In years gone by this game, while always fiercely contested, would have been almost an assured win for Leinster but no so anymore. Ever since rugby supporters marched on the IRFU to keep rugby in the west awake Connacht rugby has become much more than just a feeder province, but a rugby entity in their own right.

Once again this week the Leinster team have been circling the wagons in regards to their style of play.

Look guys, we all get it. Leinster are still winning, and yes, they still have their European pool in their own hands. We admit that they have had horrendous problems with injuries and continuity of players and selection.

I think that we all accept given the chance of winning ugly or losing with flair, then we would always opt for the former. But to move forward one has to accept criticism and look to areas where improvement can be made.

Leinster are just not gelling, despite players continually rolling out the party lines. Last week, Leinster's scrum came under fierce pressure from the Harlequins cockpit, and it very nearly cost them the match.

It certainly cost them the match in the Stoop the week before.

If - and it is still a big if - Leinster are going to progress into the final rounds of the Champions Cup, then that will have to be fixed for starters, as will playing to some sort of discernible game-plan that all the players buy into.

Too often over the last few months we have seen Leinster players making the breaks, but they are not producing anything tangible from them. One try in the last three games is hardly a great return on investment, and Leinster could so easily have lost to Harlequins last week.

Ian Madigan and Luke Fitzgerald made a good pairing in midfield last weekend, and I am excited about what Fitzgerald brings to that position, as will be national coach Joe Schmidt. Fitzgerald is a good bit heavier than in other years, and has always had great feet.

POSITIVE

Every time he got the ball last week he looked that like he might be able to do something positive and inside him Madigan also had another fine game, especially in a defensive role.

In my opinion, and that of other Irish internationals I have talked to, in the modern game Madigan is still a little light, especially in an area of high attrition.

Connacht will welcome back some heavy hitters into their backline, including Henshaw and exciting Kiwi midfielder Bundee Aki as well as the obvious experience of Muliania.

Up front, ex-Leinster second row Quinn Roux will have a serious point to prove, as will another highly rated Kiwi back rower, Tom McCarthy.

Despite the visitors' dismal record in the RDS, Lam will be saying to his team "if not now , when?". He may be right but if Leinster use their experience then they should squeak home. But please . . . not another ugly one.


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