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Connacht Rugby vs Leinster Rugby
Guinness Pro14 Rainbow Cup
The Sportsground, Galway
Saturday, 8th May 2021, 19:35

TV: Live: Eir Sports

Well that was grimly familiar.

Once again this Leinster team failed to deliver when they came up against a bigger pack which bullied them off the park. They started brightly enough and wasted a couple of decent chances in the first half that could have had them further ahead. But while there was a lot of focus on the La Rochelle attack in the build-up, we should probably have focused on their defence which is the meanest in the Top14. Once they got on top they really punished Leinster and you sense Jonno Gibbes and Ronan O'Gara had shown their team Leinster's last two defeats to Saracens and said "Do that!".

La Rochelle are a fine team and it's no disgrace to lose to them but it was dispiriting from a Leinster point of view how once again, when faced with a superior physical challenge, Leinster's gameplan just wilted and died. Trapped in their own half in the second half they again reverted to frankly stupid kicks which just gave the ball back to the rampant La Rochelle. Now some will blindly say "what can you do against a bigger pack?" and just wave the white flag. But if everything just came down to the size of the packs how have New Zealand not been destroyed against South Africa over the years? Because they use pace, skills and imagination, all things Leinster were severely lacking last weekend.

Despite the mantra from the players and coaches about "learnings", they never seem to actually ... learn from these defeats. Next season they'll go back to bullying teams up front to beat the weaker teams in the Pro16 but will come a cropper once again when they meet a bunch of bigger lumps. But if they want to really contend for the top prize in Europe again, they need to come up with a different, more inventive plan because this Leinster team has been well and truly found out at the top European level.

James Ryan's performance last week against Will Skelton was singled out by Warren Gatland as the reason he wasn't picked for the Lions tour to South Africa. Thanks Gatty, you have done the young man a kindness. After bursting on the scene like a meteor three years back Ryan's form has gradually declined and this year he's been beset by a series of concussions. The last thing he needed was a summer getting smashed to bits in South Africa. Garry Ringrose should also be given the summer off to fully recuperate after an injury plagued couple of seasons and again to hopefully rediscover his best form.

It's interesting though that since the last Lions tour in 2009 Ireland have beaten South Africa four times, England have beaten them three times, Wales have beaten them five times and even poor old Scotland beat them once. And yet, taking the best players from all four of these countries and then beating South Africa yet again is supposedly some sort of achievement. Not only that, several auld farts will be wheeled out in the coming months by Sky Sports to swear blind that four major rugby countries ganging up to beat a side they regularly beat on their own is not just an achievement it's the "Ultimate achievement". Maybe the Lions had its place in an amateur game where there was no World Cup to break up the monotony, but in the modern professional era it's just an embarrassing anachronism. Maybe the four Leinster players selected will buy into this scam and can become "Lions legends" to be wheeled out by Sky Sports in thirty years time. It will be a nice addition to their pension plans in fairness.

Depressingly all Leinster have to focus on for the rest of the season is the Rainbow Cup. But it does give them a chance to get a bit of revenge over Connacht who beat them well in the RDS earlier in the season. Connacht will be buzzing after beating Ulster away two weeks ago and their skipper Jarrad Butler is back to lead the team from number eight. Their long-serving winger Matt Healy will make his 150th appearance for his adopted province.

For Leinster there are three changes in the backline with Cian Kelleher, Ciaran Frawley and Dave Kearney coming in to start. It's all change in the pack though with only Jack Conan retaining his jersey from last week.

It's hard to know exactly how Leinster will react to last week's crushing disappointment. But if they're off their game, there's no better team than Connacht to punish them.

Team Lineups

Connacht Rugby

Leinster Rugby
Teams John Porch 15 Hugo Keenan
Peter Sullivan 14 Cian Kelleher
Sean O'Brien 13 Garry Ringrose
Tom Daly 12 Ciaran Frawley
Matt Healy 11 Dave Kearney
Conor Fitzgerald 10 Ross Byrne
Caolin Blade 9 Luke McGrath (C)

Denis Buckley 1 Peter Dooley
Dave Heffernan 2 James Tracy
Finlay Bealham 3 Andrew Porter
Niall Murray 4 Ross Molony
Gavin Thornbury 5 Scott Fardy
Eoghan Masterson 6 Josh Murphy
Conor Oliver 7 Scott Penny
Jarrad Butler (C) 8 Jack Conan

Replacements Jonny Murphy 16 Dan Sheehan
Matthew Burke 17 Ed Byrne
Dominic Robertson-McCoy 18 Tadhg Furlong
Cian Prendergast 19 Ryan Baird
Abraham Papali'I20 Josh van der Flier
Kieran Marmion 21 Rowan Osborne
Sammy Arnold 22 Rory O'Loughlin
Oran McNulty 23 Jordan Larmour

Not Considered
due to Injury

Officials Referee: Frank Murphy (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2021-05-07