Leinster may expose Connacht’s lack of depth

Three weeks into the season and the Guinness PRO12 has finally thrown the floating voter a bone they can get their teeth into in the form of tonight’s meeting of Connacht and Leinster at Galway’s Sportsground (KO: 7.35pm).

Leinster may expose Connacht’s lack of depth

This may not be the most headline-grabbing of the Irish derbies, but Leinster have come a cropper out west twice in the last five visits, the second of those a 34-6 whelping two terms ago, and their largest margin of victory in that part of the country in all that time was just eight points.

The ‘sold out’ signs may well be swinging from the gates come kick-off tonight, the home team and supporters buoyed by a two-from two winning start to the season which comes on the back of boosts to the budget and Pat Lam’s playing staff.

That said, Connacht are all too exposed to the possibility of parts of their cupboard appearing bare and the loss to a serious knee injury of hooker Sean Henry has again highlighted a lack of depth in their ranks.

With new signing Tom McCartney yet to arrive from the Blues and Jason Harris-Wright injured, Lam will start converted flanker Dave Heffernan at the centre of his front row and with Shane Delahunt from the sub-Academy providing cover on the bench.

There was good news in the fact that Danie Poolman came through concussion protocols to be named on the wing and the starting XV shows just one change to that which beat Edinburgh, with lock Aly Muldowney replacing Mick Kearney.

Leinster have made just two personnel changes after their comfortable win against Scarlets. Fergus McFadden comes in for the injured Zane Kirchner while Rhys Ruddock makes a season debut in place of Shane Jennings.

Gordon D’Arcy may get a first run off the bench in a game with the usual blurred lines what with Quinn Roux and Nathan White looking to make a point to the Leinster brass and the likes of Sean Cronin and Mike McCarthy visiting an old haunt.

Connacht’s narrow defeats of Dragons and Edinburgh have both been achieved on the back of, among other things, some superb defensive work and Heaslip made particular reference to that when asked to analyse Lam’s side. Leinster are likely to offer a far greater examination of the home side’s abilities in that sector tonight, but the flip side is Matt O’Connor’s side are unlikely to be accommodated as easily as they were by Scarlets at the RDS.

For both sides then this is an early litmus test and among the many subplots of interest will be the midfield sector where Brendan Macken and Robbie Henshaw will both be looking to further their claims as successors to you-know-who.

Leinster to do it, but not by much.

CONNACHT: D Leader; N Adeolokun, D McSharry, R Henshaw, D Poolman; J Carty, K Marmion; D Buckley, D Heffernan, N White; A Muldowney, Q Roux; J Muldoon, W Faloon, E McKeon.

LEINSTER: R Kearney; F McFadden, B Macken, I Madigan, D Fanning; J Gopperth, I Boss; J McGrath, S Cronin, M Ross; D Toner, M McCarthy; R Ruddock, D Ryan, J Heaslip.

Referee: J Lacey (IRFU).

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