Preview: PRO12 Final

Date published: May 27 2016

Connacht will be eager to get their hands on the PRO12 trophy at the expense of Leinster in an all-Irish final at Murrayfield on Saturday.

It's been some story for the Galway side and if they can do what's required in Scotland this weekend it would be a remarkable achievement.

However, they take on a team that looked every bit like champions in waiting last Friday against Ulster as their power game shone through.

Ulster simply could not match the carrying of their rivals as Leinster muscled their way into the final. Connacht must avoid such passages of defending as eventually their opponents will turn pressure into points, with Eoin Reddan an excellent organiser in such crucial matches.

Where Connacht can win the game is in their backline, where a dynamism and electric style has done for many a team throughout this season.

Kieran Marmion alongside AJ MacGinty has been solid of late while in Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw they have an outstanding midfield duo.

Leinster boast quality of their own in Ben Te'o and Garry Ringrose but this Connacht side has proved that they can knock heavyweights off their perch. Beating 2015's champions Glasgow in consecutive games showed an edge, especially with the Warriors having been on such a run.

Rewards this week came their way too from an international stand-point as five players were named in Joe Schmidt's Ireland squad for June. In truth it probably should have been more as the likes of Matt Healy and Tiernan O’Halloran must have come close. Their time should come.

Leinster are where Connacht want to be as a rugby province of that there is little doubt, as Pat Lam looks to continue to build this team into a top European side.

Losing Henshaw to Leinster and MacGinty to Sale in the off-season is a blow and a trend that will hopefully end after this season, but neither will have that in their mind on Saturday as battles with Ringrose and Jonathan Sexton excite, among others.

In team news, there are two changes from the Leinster starting XV that accounted for Ulster in the play-offs last Friday with Isa Nacewa and Devin Toner missing out and a further change on the bench.

Captain Nacewa has been ruled out with an arm injury suffered in the game against Ulster. While that injury came back clear from the initial x-ray, a subsequent scan on Monday showed damage had been done to an older injury and in particular to one of the screws that he has in the plate in his arm which affected his ability to grip. As a result Jamie Heaslip, the club vice-captain, will lead the team. 

With Nacewa absent from the number 15 jersey, Rob Kearney returns from the ankle injury suffered in the Round 22 game against Treviso. His brother Dave continues on the right wing, with Luke Fitzgerald on the left. 

Ben Te'o will play his last game for Leinster in the centre with Academy centre Garry Ringrose outside him once again. Eoin Reddan will win his 140th cap in Leinster colours at scrumhalf with Johnny Sexton at 10. 

In the pack Jack McGrath, Richardt Strauss and Mike Ross, who were all announced in Joe Schmidt's Ireland squad to tour South Africa during the week, have been named in the front row once again. Ross Molony and Mick Kearney will pack down behind them in the second row.

In the back row, Rhys Ruddock, Jordi Murphy and captain Jamie Heaslip complete the pack. With Molony starting, Hayden Triggs comes on to the bench in line to win his 15th cap with Luke McGrath also in line to win his 50th cap should he be introduced at any stage. 

For Connacht, Pat Lam has made no changes to the matchday 23 from the last fixture.

Galway man John Muldoon will captain the side in his 275th game for the province and is joined in the back row by flankers Eoin McKeon and Jake Heenan.

Finlay Bealham and Ultan Dillane, two of five Connacht players named this week in the Ireland squad for the June tour to South Africa, start up front. Tighthead Bealham is the only player to have featured in all 31 games for the province this season.

Ireland internationals Kieran Marmion and Robbie Henshaw are named in the backline with AJ MacGinty once again handed the reigns at fly-half. Niyi Adeolokun, last weekend's try scorer against Glasgow Warriors, lines up on the right wing.

Players to Watch

For Connacht: Superb ever since he arrived from New Zealand, Bundee Aki is a talisman for Connacht. Up against Ben Te'o in midfield, two unstoppable forces clash in a key battle. It's incredible how Aki has bounced back from a recent injury in this kind of form as he mixes his carries with delicate touches, not just from hand but with the boot. His clever grubber kicks will keep the Leinster defence honest.

For Leinster: One, if not the best players on the field last Friday at the RDS, Jack McGrath is in unbelievable form for Leinster at the moment. He is up there with Mako Vunipola and Joe Moody as being the form loosehead in world rugby at the moment, with Ireland having a quality player wearing the one shirt. McGrath will get through a lot of carries, scrum well as Connacht must be wary of his many talents.

Head-to-head: We go for the number tens here as in finals rugby, a good or bad day at the office for a goal-kicker could make or break their season. AJ MacGinty takes on Jonathan Sexton in that department and both are in good overall form. Let's see how they are when a trophy is on the line. It's been quite a nine months for USA international MacGinty but he faces a big-game player in Ireland's Sexton.

Form: Connacht play in the first major final in their history and achieved their best ever finish in the PRO12. Connacht's only defeat in their last four matches was 21-22 in Treviso in Round 21. Connacht have won on three of their last four visits to Murrayfield. Leinster are attempting to win the PRO12 title for the fifth time and the first since 2014. The Leinstermen have played in six previous PRO12 finals with a record of won three, lost three, their most recent defeat at this stage being 30-31 to Ospreys at the RDS Arena in 2012. Leinster's only defeat in their last five fixtures was 6-30 at Ulster in round 21. Leinster have won on thee of their last four visits to BT Murrayfield and were also victorious at the venue when beating Leicester Tigers in the Champions Cup final in 2009. The two sides have met on 27 previous occasions in the PRO12 with Leinster having the edge by 20 wins to seven – this is their first ever meeting outside Ireland.

Prediction: The romantics will be disappointed as Connacht may be muscled out at Murrayfield. Leinster to win this by five points.

The teams:

Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Dave Kearney, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Ben Te'o, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jamie Heaslip (c), 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Mick Kearney, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Richard Strauss, 1 Jack McGrath
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Peter Dooley, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Zane Kirchner

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

Date: Saturday, May 28
Venue: Murrayfield
Kick-off: 17:30 BST (16:30 GMT)
Referee: Nigel Owens
Assistant Referees: Ian Davies, Ben Whitehouse
TMO: Jon Mason