Tuesday 12 December 2017

Dempsey: Connacht clash 'massive'

Leinster’s Dave Kearney, left, and James Tracy share a joke during training in Belfield. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
Leinster’s Dave Kearney, left, and James Tracy share a joke during training in Belfield. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Girvan Dempsey has been involved in more than his fair share of derbies against Connacht down through the years but he believes that tomorrow's top-of-the-table clash is the biggest yet.

Leinster go into the game trailing the league leaders by just one point and as Connacht harbour serious title hopes of their own, Dempsey knows the importance of getting one over on one of their main rivals.

Connacht have won their last six games and have picked up maximum points five times in that same period.

Following the disappointing defeat in Glasgow last week, Leinster missed the chance to leapfrog Connacht at the top of the table and Dempsey is expecting another tough away trip in Galway.

"It is massive. A game against Connacht in the Sportsground is always a huge game. They are always very passionate and dogged at home," Dempsey said, speaking from plenty of past experience.

"But they're playing some exciting rugby and have scored 49 tries already this season. So it's going to be a test of our defensive record.

"We know there are opportunities to exploit them in defence and it is up to us to capitalise on those opportunities.

"You'd imagine it's going to be a full house. There'll be huge interest from the public and the media. It is a real good test for us to see where we're at."

With Ireland touring South Africa in June, Joe Schmidt will undoubtedly be keeping a close eye on the individual battles in the remaining inter-provincial derbies this season.

"A lot of guys will be out to prove a point," Dempsey admitted.

"It is always the way when you come up to a derby match. We know we've three of them coming in the next number of weeks. This one in particular at the weekend is massive."

With Sean O'Brien due back from the hamstring injury that he picked up in Paris next month, Dempsey has backed the Tullow native as well as Cian Healy to return to their powerful best.

Both players have been hampered by injury in recent times and Dempsey has praised the younger fringe players who have stepped up in their absence.

"They're both very competitive, they're excellent pros and they want to be playing at the highest level and we see the amount of work they do behind the scenes trying to get themselves back on the field," Leinster's backs coach said.

"Obviously the competition is going to be there which is great for other guys; you've got Jack McGrath, Josh van der Flier and other guys who've stepped into the fold and gone really well during that time.

"It's great to have that and great to have those guys getting the international experience but also playing really well for Leinster to put pressure on other guys.

"We've been fortunate enough to have guys go away to play for Ireland and the drain for our squad has always been there, but we see it as an opportunity for other guys to step up to the plate and grow our squad so when everyone's back it gives us those selection headaches.

"I suppose case in point is the one we just mentioned which is Josh, him stepping up when other guys were injured and there's a number of younger players who have had that opportunity, Peter Dooley is another one now who is having a fantastic season, James Tracy, too.

"It's something that we're aware of we just have to manage it and constantly look at our squad and see that we're in the best place possible to compete when those guys are away."

Irish Independent

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