Saturday 21 September 2019

Leinster serve notice that history will be hard won for Connacht

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Pat Lam was in understandably giddy form in the post-match exchanges at the Sportsground as he playfully suggested that Connacht, who have won the toss to occupy the Scotland dressing-room next Saturday at Murrayfield, are effectively facing Ireland in the Guinness Pro12 final.

Straight away, he stressed that his tongue was firmly in cheek but there was no doubt that having overcome a Glasgow Warriors side packed with internationals, the Westerners' task gets no easier this week.

Leinster's discovery of the long-lost intensity comes at just the wrong time for Connacht.

On Friday, Leo Cullen's side approached their meeting with Ulster with a venom rarely seen during this season and, while their attacking game was nothing special in terms of invention, the blunt force they employed was enough to dismiss Les Kiss's in-form side.

"It's important that we know what we're up against," Lam said.

"Johnny Sexton and Jamie Heaslip just took control. Jack McGrath, Devin Toner, all the big guys… I know in Super Rugby when we're playing fantasy rugby you start picking the All Black boys at this time of year because they're getting ready for Test matches.

"Same when I was playing, you start building towards those internationals, so they're all peaking for Leinster but that's because they've got a big tour to South Africa coming up and they want to get selected and all the stars come through.

"That's the challenge we face but one we look forward to."

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All season, Connacht have been knocking down barriers and beating a Glasgow side that many thought had found form at the right time will be a big fillip.

The bookies have already installed Leinster as five-point favourites to reclaim the title they won in 2013 and 2014 and their team full of internationals will fancy their chances after producing when it mattered on Friday.

The challenge for Lam is to keep his players focused during final week, to ensure that they can find the right pitch and equal or better Leinster's Test-match intensity in a way Ulster couldn't.

Murrayfield will see the league's best defence come up against its most exciting attack. They say defence wins championships, so it's the Blues' cup to lose.

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