Make Or Break For Leinster
After an unexpected loss to Connacht in September, can defending Pro12 champions Leinster regain their pride in the RDS on Friday evening?
Leinster v Connacht, Friday 7:35, RDS Arena
Defending Pro12 Champions Leinster have looked good in patches, and have recorded convincing home wins over Scarlets, Ospreys and Cardiff. But they’ve also slipped up unexpectedly on occasion, drawing with Treviso, and losing to both Connacht and Munster. They are fifth in the Pro 12 but do at least go into this game having won their last fixture, at home to Harlequins in the European Cup.
After finishing tenth in the Pro12 last season, Connacht are faring much better in their second season under Pat Lam. They kicked off their league campaign with three straight wins and although they have lost a couple since, they are still in the top half of the table, just five points off the leaders, Munster. They are also faring well in the European Challenge Cup, completing a double against Bayonne last weekend.
Leinster’s season has been hampered by injury problems, particularly in the back row and there was more bad news last weekend. Flanker Rhys Ruddock, who had been enjoying a breakthrough season for province and country, broke his arm against Harlequins and will be out for four to six weeks. The good news is that open-side flanker Shane Jennings is fit again and available for Friday’s game.
Connacht’s injury list isn’t as lengthy as Leinster’s and they received a boost earlier in the week with the return to full training of scrum-half Ian Porter and prop JP Cooney. Both are likely to feature on Friday, however the squad will be without Andrew Brown who is continuing to recover from a knee problem, along with wing Fionn Carr and lock Mick Kearney, who picked up injuries against Bayonne.
Connacht have usually been the weakest of the Irish sides in the Pro12 and have lost eleven of their last twelve all-Ireland matches.
Their record against Leinster is not much better. They’ve lost eight of their last eleven encounters and haven’t recorded an away victory since 2002.
But they came out on top in their latest meeting at the Sportsground in September. In driving rain, Leinster kicked their way to a 9-3 half-time lead, but Connacht stunned the reigning champions with a second-half comeback, capped by a Keiran Marmion try, and held off some late pressure to earn a surprise 10-9 victory.
Thanks to a couple of astute southern hemisphere signings, Connacht look a tougher proposition this season than they did last year, and given that they are just a point behind their illustrious rivals in the Pro12 table, will fancy their chances of earning an unprecedented double.
Leinster still have enough talent available to see off their opponents and are unlikely to be caught off guard by Connacht’s tactics as they were in September, but I can see the visitors making it a thoroughly uncomfortable evening for the home side. Back Connacht + 12 at 10/11 in the Match Handicap market.