Wednesday 21 February 2018

Schmidt gives starlets chance to shine

Hugh Farrelly

LEINSTER will be bidding to record their 21st home Magners League win in succession at the RDS this evening (5.30), while Connacht are striving to end a Dublin losing run which stretches back to September 2002.

Coach Eric Elwood was playing out-half in Donnybrook that evening and kicked 13 points in Connacht's 26-23 victory. Michael Swift played blindside flanker then and lines out in the second-row eight years later as Elwood makes a raft of changes to the side that lost narrowly to Munster last Monday.

Young players such as Eoin Griffin on the wing and Eoin McKeon in the back-row get a chance to shine, with Ian Keatley starting at outside-centre as Miah Nikora gets the nod at out-half. They go up against a Leinster outfit high on confidence after excellent back-to-back Heineken Cup performances against Clermont were followed by Monday's impressive destruction of Ulster in Ravenhill.

Leinster coach Joe Schmidt shuffles his side and with various front-line players rested, there is a youthful look to the home backline. Eoin O'Malley returns to midfield alongside Fergus McFadden having recovered from a rib injury, while Andrew Conway and Dave Kearney form a back three alongside Isa Nacewa at full-back.

Shaun Berne is retained at out-half after an accomplished outing in Belfast and is partnered by Paul O'Donohoe, with Eoin Reddan on the bench.

Kevin McLaughlin makes his first start of the season in a powerful back-row, combining with captain Shane Jennings and No 8 Sean O'Brien, who will be looking to continue his phenomenal run of form.

Connacht have won just once on the road this season, in Glasgow in September and, after a bright start to the season, are on a run of five defeats.

Leinster have a history of struggling against Connacht, who tend to perform well against a province that has been a regular recruitment source. Keatley and tight-head Jamie Hagan are two of those recent recruits and will be looking for big displays this evening and, for Hagan, it is an opportunity to send out a serious message in front of watching Ireland management in a position that continues to cause concern.

Connacht have a decent bench, including Fionn Carr and Frank Murphy, but Leinster look to have too much firepower.

Verdict: Leinster

LEINSTER - I Nacewa; A Conway, E O'Malley, F McFadden, D Kearney; S Berne, P O'Donohoe; H van der Merwe, R Strauss, C Newland; N Hines, D Toner; K McLaughlin, S Jennings (capt), S O'Brien. Reps: T Sexton, J McGrath, M Ross, E O'Donoghue, S Keogh, E Reddan, I Madigan, N Morris.

CONNACHT -- T Nathan; E Griffin, I Keatley, K Matthews (capt), B Tuohy; M Nikora, C Willis; B Wilkinson, A Flavin, J Hagan; M Swift, M McCarthy; A Browne, J O'Connor, E McKeon. Reps: D Murphy, R Ah You, D Rogers, B Upton, S Conneely, F Murphy, N Ta'auso, F Carr.

REF -- J Lacey (IRFU).

Leinster v Connacht, Live, TG4, 5.30

Irish Independent

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