Saturday 25 November 2017

Marmion expecting sparks to fly in clash with Blues

Connacht Head Coach Pat Lam
Connacht Head Coach Pat Lam
David Kelly

David Kelly

Connacht and Leinster players have been queuing up this week to claim that a bit of "niggle" is not a bad old thing in internecine inter-provincial fare.

If the off-field tension between these two sides is anything to go by, certainly based on their previous meeting this season, then the post-match fare could be as intoxicating as anything that happens on it.

Coaches Pat Lam and Matt O'Connor had a right old ding-dong when the Westerners succumbed to a late defeat in the RDS in October.

Lam bristled when his side were not awarded a penalty try -- the route that Leinster took to claim the late win -- while O'Connor upset Connacht with his contention that the visitors "didn't play any rugby."

So, get set for some fireworks at the Sportsground tonight -- although Lam is hoping that referee George Clancy can keep a lid on things a tad more calmly than in their defeat to Munster last weekend in a less than festive occasion at Thomond Park under the supervision of Dudley Phillips.

"Last week there was a lot of niggle, particularly around the set-piece, and if a game is really niggly for long periods of time and it is not sorted, players will sort it themselves and that is not ideal," claimed Lam.

"We have George Clancy this week and I am confident with his experience that it will be a good game."

Scrum-half Kieran Marmion, however, doesn't expect anything less than a full-blown confrontation and the inevitable ensuing sparks that seem to trademark these derbies, particularly given Connacht's perennial underdog status within Irish rugby.

"You're always expecting a bit of niggle, especially against Munster. It always adds to the Munster game," he declared. "It's nothing we weren't expecting and we'll be expecting the same again this week."

Indeed, it can aid a drive in performance, according to imminent centurion Andrew Browne, who once used to face his brother, former Leinster hooker Damian, in these contests.

"That niggle helped us get into it a little bit," he says in reference to the Munster game where his side eventually claimed a late losing bonus-point. It probably took that for us to wake us up a bit. Munster always like that, but we gave what we got."

For his part, Eoin Reddan is intimately acquainted with the tenor of these fixtures given his status as a three-province man. "There's more bite in each of these games as long as it doesn't boil over," he avers. "They all happen around the same time. We know how Connacht feel about us coming to the Sportsground.

"They had a few changes last week and still came out with a bonus point. This will be tough for us. They've had some great wins, but there were narrow losses that they didn't get any credit for."

Connacht have won only once in the Pro12 since round one -- 14-11 at home to the Dragons last month -- and they are attempting to win back-to-back games at the Sportsground for the first time since March.

However, they have not beaten a fellow Irish province since the last time that Leinster visited Galway, a thunderous bonus-point win in September 2012.

Leinster's only defeat in their last six league games was the 11-6 reverse to Edinburgh at Murrayfield in December, though they have only won once away to an Irish province since April 2012.

Both sides will hope they can do their talking on the pitch.

Irish Independent

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