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Sunday 25 September 2016

Blues big dogs on the prowl

Connacht get ready to go 'big game' hunting for the first time

Jack McGrath
Jack McGrath

The big dogs from the East will butt heads with the underdogs from the West.

That is a simplistic approach to quite a complex situation in which Leinster hold the aces everywhere except in the coaches box next Saturday.

Stripped back to the bone, Leinster will probably launch their bid for three PRO12 League titles in four seasons with 12 internationals, one future Ireland centre in Garry Ringrose and one future English centre in Ben Te'o, as well as an uncapped partner for Devin Toner in the second row.

In addition, Leo Cullen will be able to call on at least five internationals from the bench, based on his selection against Ulster.

Connacht can put out just one Irish starter from the Six Nations in Robbie Henshaw, four other Irish internationals, all caps gained off the bench, and their captain John Muldoon, whose last of three caps came in 2010.

"People are talking about them being the underdogs," said prop Jack McGrath.

"I don't think that's the case. It's not a fluke that they're here.

"They're not up there in the try-scoring stats, defensive stats, winning stats by accident.

"They've had a winning season and they've got key players in key areas that have played really well."

Experience

It would also put to one side the significant gulf in experience between the lead coaches Pat Lam and Cullen and, for the most part, that between Lam's assistants and those of Cullen's.

"You can't not say that they haven't done well. Look where they've come from in three years. It's brilliant," said McGrath.

"The quality of the players and coaches that they have now is excellent."

Big game experience means so much when you go 'big game' hunting.

"Yeah, I don't look into that too much, but any game on any given day it's won or lost on the toss of a coin, especially finals.

"It's one game to be won. If you've a little bit of experience here or there it doesn't make that much difference."

The record books do not support this position.

For example, Glasgow had to take their medicine in the 2012 and 2013 PRO12 semi-finals and 2014 final, losing out to Leinster each time, before reaching The Promised Land last season.

This is Connacht's first major final. It is Leinster's tenth since 2009.

Even Leinster have lost more PRO12 finals (3) than they have won (2).

Perhaps, The Blues main source of motivation will emanate from the fact they failed to make the play-offs and the final for the first time last season.

"I don't even think we did watch the semi-final last year, but it was hard knowing they were going on without us in them," he said.

"I remember thinking last year: 'this is somewhere you never want to be again.'"

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