Preview: Connacht v Leinster

Date published: March 25 2016

Connacht head coach Pat Lam has made two changes to his starting XV that will face Leinster in a key clash at the Sportsground on Saturday.

Academy centre Peter Robb is handed his first PRO12 start and partners Bundee Aki in midfield. 21-year-old Robb made his Connacht debut in November in the Challenge Cup game away to Russian side Enisei-STM. Saturday will mark his tenth appearance in a Connacht jersey.

Niyi Adeolokun returns to the right wing after missing the Edinburgh game through injury and is the only other personnel change to the team. The half-back pairing is once again made up of AJ MacGinty and Kieran Marmion, who made his Six Nations debut earlier this month.

The packs sees Ireland international Nathan White, who featured in all five Six Nations games, pack down in the front-row while 21-year-old Sean O’Brien from the Academy is again included in the back-row with Jake Heenan and captain John Muldoon.

Internationals Robbie Henshaw – who only joined team training on Thursday – and Finlay Bealham are both named amongst the replacements. Front-rower Bealham who has featured in every Connacht game this season, is in line to make his 50th appearance.

“I have a lot of respect for who Leinster are and what they have achieved. There is a lot of quality right across the squad and I believe Leo (Cullen), in his first season as head coach, has done a tremendous job,” said Lam.

“Tomorrow, we are expecting a pretty physical and fired up opposition. As a team who have history of winning at this stage of the season, it’s going to take a massive collective effort from us to come out on top.

“There’s certainly a huge buzz around this game tomorrow and we’re all really looking forward to it – it doesn’t get much better than playing in front of a sold-out Sportsground. Staying focussed and chanelling that excitement and energy into our structures and systems will give us the best chance of getting the points on offer.”

Meanwhile, Leinster boss Cullen is able to call upon 12 players who were involved in the matchday and extended matchday squad with Ireland last weekend against Scotland in the Six Nations. He is also able to select the fit again Luke Fitzgerald who returns for this first time since January to make his 150th appearance for the province.

With Fergus McFadden coming on to the right wing, captain Isa Nacewa, who makes his 100th Guinness PRO12 appearance on Saturday, reverts to full-back with Fitzgerald taking up the number 11 jersey. Ben Te’o and Garry Ringrose continue in midfield.

Luke McGrath again starts at scrum-half with Ian Madigan joining him in the half-backs.

Cian Healy comes in at loosehead prop with Richardt Strauss also starting at hooker. Tadhg Furlong completes the front-row.

Behind them Ross Molony and Hayden Triggs start in the second-row, while in the back-row Dominic Ryan starts from blindside with Josh van der Flier and Rhys Ruddock back from Ireland duty to complete the pack.

Irish players Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, Mike Ross, Devin Toner, Jamie Heaslip and Eoin Reddan are all included on the bench.

Form: Connacht have won their last six matches in all tournaments, five of those with maximum points. Connacht’s only loss at the Sportsground in any competition this season was 3-10 to Ulster in the PRO12 on 26 December. Leinster’s four game winning run in the Guinness PRO12 ended in Glasgow on Friday in the rearranged round 9 fixture. The Leinstermen have won all three matches they have played against fellow Irish provinces this season. Leinster have lost just once to Connacht in their last six encounters: 9-10 in Galway in this equivalent fixture in round 3 last season.

The teams:

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Peter Robb, 11 Matt Healy, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon (c), 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Sean O’Brien, 5 Aly Muldowney, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Nathan White, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Andrew Browne, 20 Eoin McKeon, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Shane O’Leary, 23 Robbie Henshaw

Leinster: 15 Isa Nacewa (c), 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 Ian Madigan, 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Rhys Ruddock, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Dominic Ryan, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Cian Healy
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Mike Ross, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Jamie Heaslip, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Noel Reid, 23 Zane Kirchner

Date: Saturday, March 26
Venue: Sportsground
Kick-off: 17:15 GMT
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)
Assistant Referees: Peter Fitzgibbon, Stuart Gaffikin (both IRFU)
TMO: Olly Hodges (IRFU)