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Monday 11 December 2017

Cheika is out to repay connacht

Blues coach irked by counterpart's comments last season

There was steel in the eyes of coach Michael Cheika when he talked about how Connacht felt they had what he called "the wood" on Leinster last season.

Cheika was visibly irritated by the fact that Michael Bradley revealed how Connacht targeted Leinster at the Sportsground as a match they expected to win back in October 2008.

It is a measure of Cheika's competitive mentality that this reaction to Bradley, 18 months later, was central to the Leinster press conference on Tuesday.

It wouldn't take a prophet to envisage a harsh kind of payback for the Westerners, given the return of Ireland internationals Leo Cullen, the captain, Eoin Reddan, Shane Jennings, Rob Kearney and Jonathan Sexton.

The latter two, Kearney and Sexton, are both on a retrieval mission. They will have to recover their best form straight away. Perhaps, the standards of Kearney are of greater concern considering he has struggled to recapture his form for parts of this season.

Out-half Sexton will relish the opportunity to 'get back on the horse'. Like Ronan O'Gara before Christmas, there is not much wrong with his all-round game, it is the critical factor of goal-kicking percentages that must be addressed.

Ireland U20 captain Rhys Ruddock will make his home debut on the blindside of a backrow completed by Jennings and Stephen Keogh. It is a chance he is not likely to pass up.

Apparently, Ruddock is an incredibly mature, physically chiselled young man, who has impressed the coaching team from the first minute he joined Leinster.

Former Ireland U20 Eoin O'Malley -- he is on the bench -- must be extremely disappointed to lose out in the centre, Fergus McFadden moving across one to facilitate the superior distribution skills of Shaun Berne.

Connacht coach Michael Bradley has taken the decision to leave his only Ireland Six Nations player, Sean Cronin, on the bench behind starter Adrian Flavin.

There can be only one solid reason for this. Hooker Cronin is clearly lacking match practice because he was limited to time in reserve for Ireland, having last played in the 19-all draw with Glasgow on March 5th.

There is big game experience in the presence of full-back Gavin Duffy, captain in the absence of John Muldoon, scrum-half Frank Murphy, props Brett Wilkinson and Robbie Morris, openside Johnny O'Connor and number eight George Naoupu.

It is very unlikely this will be enough to resist the flow of a Leinster side which has functioned very well without their Six Nations internationals beating Glasgow at home and Cardiff away to climb to the top of the ladder.

They will be intent on staying there, possibly even looking for the five points from four tries that could stretch their advantage over the chasing pack.

LEINSTER v CONNACHT, LIVE SETANTA SPORTS 1 (KO 4.30)

Leinster: R Kearney; G Dempsey, F McFadden, S Berne, I Nacewa; J Sexton, E Reddan; S Wright, J Fogarty, M Ross, L Cullen (capt), M O'Kelly, R Ruddock, S Jennings, S Keogh.

Connacht: G Duffy (capt); B Tuohy, A Wynne, K Matthews, F Carr; M Nikora, F Murphy; B Wilkinson, A Flavin, R Morris, M McCarthy, B Upton, M McComish, J O'Connor, G Naoupu.

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