Leinster rugby has not had the best of times recently and will be hoping to get back to winning ways in the RaboDirect PRO 12 when they welcome Connacht to the RDS tonight.
Back in September a second-string Leinster side were unexpectedly thumped 34-6 by Eric Elwood’s side at the Sportsground. However, it wasn’t just the scoreline that raised eyebrows.
The way in which Connacht dragged and pulled an indifferent Leinster all around the sodden pitch that night, scoring five tries to one and, being realistic here, hammered them out the gate, just goes to show how Connacht can, when the big boys come to town at least, play attractive and competitive rugby.
Before that game questions were raised as to the effectiveness of Leinster defence; they had leaked 13 tries in only five RaboDirect PRO12 games and had flattered to deceive in previous victories.
Since then the European champions defending hasn’t improved; over double that amount of tries have been conceded in 11 games and only three other teams in the league have inferior defensive records. Connacht is not one of them.
More recently Joe Schmidt’s men lost to Ulster and, with Munster narrowly overcoming Connacht last weekend, Leinster have slipped out of the play-off spots. The Ulster pack simply out-muscled their Irish compatriots and not for the first time this season, Leinster looked an ordinary rugby team. A far cry from their three European-winning campaigns.
Their slump has a lot to do with injuries to prominent players but although Rob Kearney and Brain O’Driscoll are back in training, Leinster’s team only comprises of one or two experienced heads and young burdening talent.
Michael Bent starts in the front-row, Devon Toner at lock, while the team is lead by Shane Jennings. Leo Cullen will make his 99th appearance for the province if he comes off the bench.
Eric Elwood has made four changes to his team that lost to Munster last week. Winger Matt Healy makes his first competitive start for the Westerners in place of Tiernan O’Halloran and Danie Poolman moves to the other wing as Eoin Griffin returns at centre. In the pack Michael Swift starts in place of Mike McCarthy and Denis Buckley is preferred to Ronan Loughney up front.
Connacht will try get at Leinster early on as they did at the Sportsground because looking at the table, they badly need a win to stay in touch with Edinburgh and before the visit of the Dragons next week in a second-from-bottom clash.
Leinster has not lost at home in the league but have lost their last three in all competitions and even though their star names are left at home, should see out a win which will keep them in the hunt for a play-off spot.
Verdict: Leinster -15