Leinster look to ring in New Year with same old story

EUROPEAN champions Leinster travel west tomorrow for what, on paper, looks likely to be a New Year ramble at the Galway Sportsground.

This annual interprovincial fixture has traditionally gone the way of the Dubliners and there is nothing to suggest otherwise when they run out on to a sold-out Sportsground.

Leinster arrive on back of a 42-13 win over Ulster; Connacht lost 24-9 to Munster. The Heineken Cup holders are in confident form, leading the RaboDirect Pro 12 with nine wins, and having racked up 12 wins on the trot since they lost to Glasgow in September.

Compare that to Connacht who are struggling after a string of defeats. Traditionally European action provided the western province with a break from the weekly grind of Celtic league fare — a couple of easy games against lesser European sides — but this year’s debut on the Heineken Cup stage has taken its toll on Eric Elwood’s limited resources and, again this week, Elwood’s squad is suffering a host of injuries.

“It is tough going as we are very limited at the moment. Several players have been unable to train this week,” Elwood said.

Dave Gannon, Rodney Ah You, Dave McSharry, Michael Swift, Andrew Browne, Dave Nolan, Eoghan Grace, and James Loxton are all unavailable and Elwood has dipped into his academy, with Mick Kearney making his competitive debut, replacing Gannon who picked up a knee injury against Munster. Kyle Tonetti joins Eoin Griffin in the centre, replacing McSharry, while Paul O’Donohue comes in for Frank Murphy who moves to the bench. Brian Tuohy takes over from Fetu Vainikolo on the right wing, while the last of the five changes sees Adrian Flavin start at hooker.

Leinster won the corresponding fixture at the RDS earlier in the season 30-10, depriving Connacht of a point after a fine early season run by Eric Elwood’s men. However Connacht will not fear their Dublin counterparts — they produced a memorable 27-13 win two seasons ago in Galway — but defensively they will need to be on their toes against a side with a scoring prowess which is reflected in its superior points difference on the league table.

Elwood, however, will be hoping his side can replicate the form they showed against Gloucester two weeks ago.

“Leinster arrive here on a roll of 12 wins on the trot, and we are on roll at the other end. We have been forced to limit training this week due to injuries, which has not been ideal preparation,” Elwood said.

“We are hurting at the moment, We did not have the luxury this season of some easier games in the Amlin, and are facing an unprecedented 13 games in a row, which is difficult for us, but the lads are very resilient and have been working very hard.

“We know Leinster are riding the crest of a wave, but for us, it’s about raising our game and I have no doubt we will.”

CONNACHT: G Duffy (capt), B Tuphy, E Griffin, K Tonetti, T O’Halloran, N O’Connor, P O’Donohue; B Wilkinson, A Flavin, R Loughney, G Naoupu, M McCarthy, M Kearney, J O’Connor, J Muldoon.

Replacements: E Reynecke, D Buckley, D Rogers, E McKeon, TJ Anderson, F Murphy, M Jarvis, H Fa’afili.

LEINSTER: I Nacewa, D Kearney, E O’Malley, B Macken, A Conway, I Madigan, I Boss; J McGrath, R Strauss, J Hagan, L Cullen (capt), D Browne, R Ruddock, K McLaughlin/S Jennings, L Auva’a.

Replacements: S Cronin, H van der Merwe, N White, D Toner, S Jennings/J Murphy, J Cooney, N Reid/F Carr, L Fitzgerald.

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