Friday 15 December 2017

Nothing easy about Blues' bid to banish Connacht hex

Connacht v Leinster, The Sportsground, tomorrow 6.05 (rte2)

Coach Joe Schmidt will hope to break Connacht's hold over Leinster in the City of Tribes. It won't be quite as easy as the relative playing resources suggest it should be.

At least, this is the evidence from the two previous visits to The Sportsground where Leinster were suffocated by Connacht last April (27-13) and in October 2008 (19-18).

Funny enough, Munster and Ulster have not been as badly afflicted in Galway, perhaps due to their more pragmatic approach to squeezing the forwards and playing the percentages in what are usually inclement conditions.

There is nothing quite like the appearance of Leinster to get the adrenaline flowing through Connacht bodies, especially for those like out-half Ian Keatley, wing Fionn Carr, tight-head Jamie Hagan and others who were judged not good enough for the eastern province.

There will be every motivation in the world for these three Leinster exiles to show Ireland coach Declan Kidney the error of his ways and for hooker Sean Cronin and flanker John Muldoon to confirm their national selection.

The problem for Connacht is that Leinster have hit a rich vein of form that was satisfactory enough to brush aside Munster, French League leaders Racing Metro and Saracens.

This is a level of brilliance and consistency at the highest echelons of club level that is simply beyond the scope of Connacht. All common sense points at an away win. Surely, this is pedigree enough and form enough to see off a Connacht outfit that was not able to overcome the mediocre challenge of Cavalieri Estra two weeks ago.

The beauty of sport is that nothing is guaranteed, especially when Connacht have their talisman Muldoon back on board, have been stung by the sharp words of coach Eric Elwood and recovered their pride with a win over French club Bayonne in the Amlin Cup.

It will take every ounce of Leinster resolve to keep their eyes trained solely on the points available. They have given so much in the last month to belatedly kick-start their season in the Heineken Cup.

It still remains for Leinster to make inroads into the Magners where they stand, not-so-proud, in an unacceptable eighth position, nine points adrift of leaders Munster and six short of the top four.

The prospect of four November internationals blurring focus and injuries to Brian O'Driscoll and Luke Fitzgerald in tandem with Connacht's appetite for their destruction could spell L-O-S-S for Leinster.

Verdict: Leinster

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