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Monday 5 December 2016

Cullen: Blues must be on point in battle

Leinster v Connacht, tonight (KO 5.15), live, Sky Sports 2

Leo Cullen knows the force of passion Connacht will bring to the tie this evening
Leo Cullen knows the force of passion Connacht will bring to the tie this evening
Seán O’Brien brings heavy firepower to carry the fight

Leinster coach Leo Cullen talked up the traditional point-to-prove mentality of Connacht ahead of the eagerly-awaited inter-provincial Pro12 tie this evening.

"If you don't make it in one province, there could be a chance to prove your case somewhere else," he said.

"That gives them real motivation when they come here."

This is largely based on those men who were involved with Leinster, at one time or another, and had to move west to further their careers.

For instance, Quinn Roux, Cian Kelleher and Peter Robb have played for the Blues.

"Every time we play against Connacht, you know those guys are going to be very passionate."

Starters Tiernan O'Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun, Craig Ronaldson, Dave Heffernan and Seán O'Brien were schooled within the Leinster system before making their way to Connacht.

"It is important we are on point. We talked about it a lot this week," said Cullen.

"Traditionally, for us, Leinster have always struggled against Connacht for the last 20 years."

Case

This has actually not been the case at the RDS, where Connacht have never won.

"One of the biggest advantages they have is stability in selection over large chunks of the season which is a real strength, particularly last year with the World Cup.

"Allied to the fact they have that stability, which has served them well in the Pro12 in recent time, they also have a lot of players that have also missed out on selections with Leinster whether at the academy or for the seniors.

"They've gone to Connacht. When they play against Leinster, they have a point to prove.

"There is nothing new in that. For as long as I played provincial rugby, that was there."

Certainly, Leinster have enough genuine firepower from Cian Healy, Seán Cronin, Seán O'Brien, Dan Leavy and Jack Conan to carry the fight.

They do not look quite as convincing out the back where exciting half-backs Joey Carbery and Jamison Gibson-Park will lead the inexperienced Rory O'Loughlin, Adam Byrne and Barry Daly, making his first start.

Connacht will make their way eastwards with Bundee Aki restricted to bench duty.

Full-back O'Halloran, hooker Heffernan and tight-head prop Conor Carey are the three changes Pat Lam has made for this one. Second row James Cannon, 28, formerly of Wasps, is in line for his debut off the bench.

"Despite the high number of injuries that we have, we are excited by the challenge and opportunity to be the first Connacht team to win at the RDS," said Lam.

"Leinster have started the season extremely well and are sitting top of the table.

"We understand the difficulty of that challenge.

"We have mentally prepared very well as we know that a focus on our team roles will give us the best shot at claiming the points on offer."

The history books suggest they will fall short of their purpose.

Leinster: I Nacewa (capt); A Byrne, R O'Loughlin, N Reid, B Daly; J Carbery, J Gibson-Park; C Healy, S Cronin, M Ross; M Kearney, I Nagle; D Leavy, S O'Brien, J Conan.

Connacht: T O'Halloran; N Adeolokun, P Robb, C Ronaldson, C Kelleher; J Carty, K Marmion; JP Cooney, D Heffernan, C Carey; Q Roux, A Browne; S O'Brien, J Heenan, J Muldoon (capt).

Verdict: Leinster

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