Cullen's Leinster send their best out West in attempt to avoid another humiliation as Sexton and O'Brien promise different attitude
Funny that it took a near total stranger in Andy Friend to condense the latest chapter of the often acerbic acrimony between Connacht and Leinster down to its fundamentals.
Referring to the 47-10 victory for the westerners last April, current Connacht coach Friend quite laconically suggested that it wasn't necessarily John Muldoon's late conversion that would have wounded Leinster, rather the nature of the defeat.
Cian Healy reminded us last week that the retiring Muldoon's swansong still embittered Leinster, a refreshingly heartfelt comment in an era where our sportsmen and women are so often needlessly PR-handled into utter blandness.
Healy's opinion was dictated by mood and this is where Friend's cerebral point may validly trump the player's emotion.
For had it been Leinster enjoying such a rampant success, they would scarcely have batted an eyelid had Muldoon lined up a late conversion, not even had he done so while dressed as Eddie the Eagle.
Defeat hurts whatever way you dress it up. Leo Cullen sent a team down here last season that seemed to be fulfilling a fixture; already guaranteed of topping their conference, their primary aim was to get a week off before the Champions Cup final.
The side contained some who might have hoped to put their hands up for that selection; instead, most of them spent the afternoon with their hands on their hips.
Few of their number are required today. Cullen was spanked here as a player before so he will have learned his lesson, a belated exercise in humility, perhaps, especially given Connacht's notable triumph in the final of this competition back in 2016. With that in mind, Jonathan Sexton captains the side while fit-again Seán O'Brien starts another injury comeback from the bench.
International Rugby Newsletter
Neither man will countenance the alarming drop in physical and mental attitude that afflicted them here five months ago.
"Galway was one of the few times we lacked an edge last season but Seán will bring that," admits assistant coach John Fogarty, himself a former Connacht player.
"When I was down there it was a game you were always massively up for. Physically, you wanted to dominate, knowing there was probably a bit of class on the pitch that we couldn't contend with, so we had to do it a different way.
"I don't think that is the case now. The squad right now and the place in Connacht is so different. They have quality players playing a really dangerous brand of rugby. We can't rely on emotion, in the same way that they can't either."
Connacht - T O'Halloran; C Kelleher, T Farrell, B Aki, M Healy; J Carty, K Marmion; D Buckley, D Heffernan, F Bealham; U Dillane, Q Roux; S O'Brien, C Fainga'a, R Copeland. Reps: T McCartney, P McCabe, D Robertson-McCoy, J Cannon, P Boyle, C Blade, C Ronaldson, N Adeolokun. Leinster - R Kearney; J Larmour, G Ringrose, J Tomane, J Lowe; J Sexton, L McGrath; C Healy, S Cronin, T Furlong; D Toner, S Fardy; R Ruddock, J van der Flier, J Conan. Reps: J Tracy, E Byrne, A Porter, R Molony, S O'Brien, N McCarthy, R Byrne, R O'Loughlin. Ref - M Mitrea (FIR)
- Connacht v Leinster, Live, TG4/eir Sport 1, 5.15