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Cullen haunted by Connacht defeat as Westerners seek first win in Dublin in 16 years

Leinster v Connacht, Live, eir Sport 1, 7.45


Scott Fardy has been a ‘really important voice’ for Leinster. Photo: Sportsfile

Scott Fardy has been a ‘really important voice’ for Leinster. Photo: Sportsfile

Scott Fardy has been a ‘really important voice’ for Leinster. Photo: Sportsfile

For all of the many strides that Connacht have made in recent times, they remain without a win in Dublin since 2002.

It's a barren run that has been nagging away at the Westerners for the last 16 years and as they arrive in the capital this evening, Connacht will feel that they will not get a better chance to end it.

Buoyed by their impressive recent run of form that has seen them rack up five straight victories, Connacht will have taken a great deal of confidence from the team that Leinster have named.

While the front-line international players are given the night off, Leo Cullen is still able to name a plethora of quality players, but there is no doubt that Connacht will look at this as a great opportunity to win at the RDS for the first time.

Cullen played in the second-row the last time Connacht won in Dublin and even though it is now a distant memory for most people, it remains fresh in the Leinster head coach's memory.

"I just always remember the feeling at the end of these games and the feeling that 'I'm going to remember this one for a long time' and 'People are probably going to be reminding me of it in years to come'," Cullen said.

"I remember what it meant to the Connacht players at the time and being part of that team that loses to Connacht in Donnybrook at home.

"It's the nature of these games, there's something extra special about them, you need to make sure you prepare as well as possible for the game.

"I can't remember that week's preparation but I certainly remember the game and losing and they stay with you forever.

"We've got to make sure we get as much right as we possibly can to ensure that doesn't happen to us. That was a very, very different time."

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Leinster's strength in depth will be key over the coming weeks and it speaks volumes for the quality at Cullen's disposal that the likes of Scott Fardy, Rhys Ruddock and Dan Leavy are named in a so-called 'second-string' team.

It has been a frustrating season for Fardy, who after enjoying an outstanding campaign last year has found himself edged out of the European match-day squads because of the antipodean rule.

"Scott has been excellent," Cullen maintained.

"He is a really important voice in the squad and in the team. Even in terms of the role he has played in the last couple of weeks and how he has helped prepare the team to play at the weekend.

"There is obviously a lot of factors that goes into these selections, particularly the foreign guys - as you guys know - so it is not straightforward.

"I can't speak highly enough of the impact he has on the group and tomorrow is another opportunity for him to showcase what he can do on the field and like everyone that is there, there is a genuine opportunity."

Andy Friend is able to recall Bundee Aki, who is back in Ireland following his time off to get married in New Zealand. The Ireland centre starts on the bench.

"Everyone wants to play against the top sides and see how they perform," Friend insisted. "We will play our game and implement our game-plan and we will know where we are as we go into the new year. These three fixtures will be a huge test for our squad."

Connacht should be eyeing this game as an opportunity to end their Dublin hoodoo, but against a Leinster team stacked full of exciting potential, they won't find it easy.

Verdict: Leinster

Leinster - H Keenan; A Byrne, R O'Loughlin, C O'Brien, D Kearney; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park; P Dooley, B Byrne, M Bent; M Kearney, S Fardy; R Ruddock (capt), D Leavy, C Doris. Reps: S Cronin, E Byrne, A Porter, R Molony, M Deegan, H O'Sullivan, C Frawley, N Reid.

Connacht - T O'Halloran; C Kelleher, K Godwin, T Farrell, D Leader; J Carty, C Blade; D Buckley, T McCartney, F Bealham; U Dillane, G Thornbury; J Butler (capt), C Fainga'a, P Boyle. Reps: S Delahunt, P McCabe, D Robertson McCoy, J Cannon, E Masterson, J Mitchell, D Horwitz, B Aki.

REF - G Clancy (IRFU)

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