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Preview: Connacht v Leinster

27th September 2012 13:07

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Rob Kearney Cian Healy Leinster Heineken Cup semi-final v Clermont

First start this season: Rob Kearney

Dan Parks will make his debut for Connacht in Friday's Irish derby against Leinster at the Sportsground.

Speaking to the Irish Times, Parks said that he is delighted to be fit for the highly anticipated fixture.

"With the injury it's been 16 weeks since I've played, now I'm dying to get out there. I never really lost it, but I feel revitalised. It's made me appreciate how much I still love playing and being around rugby," said Parks.

Connacht coach Eric Elwood has made a number of changes to his side as they prepare to take on the European Champions.

Robbie Henshaw replaces an injured Gavin Duffy at full-back. 19-year-old Henshaw earned his first competitive start in Glasgow last week and had made a notable impact from the bench in all three previous league matches.

Both Tiernan O'Halloran and Fetu'u Vainikolo return to their starting positions on the wing while Eoin Griffin joins Dave McSharry in the centre.

Up front, Brett Wilkinson makes way for Denis Buckley as loosehead prop while former Leinster prop Nathan White, who also captains the side, starts again as tighthead.

Michael Swift, who earns his 150th league appearance on the eve of this derby game, slots back into the second-row and is joined Mike McCarthy.

Eoin McKeon who started the last two weeks in the number eight position moves to blindside flanker and joins Johnny O'Connor and George Naoupu in the back-row.

Meanwhile, Ireland full-back Rob Kearney will make his first for Leinster this season. Kearney will make his 121st Leinster appearance for the province while Fergus McFadden starts on the right wing.

In midfield Gordon D'Arcy will be partnered by Brendan Macken, who scored a brace of tries last weekend, with Isa Nacewa moving to the left wing.

Ian Madigan is at fly-half with John Cooney on his inside.

In the pack, Shane Jennings leads the team and he is joined in the pack by Ben Marshall and Quinn Roux - with the South African lock set to make his second appearance for the province.

Heinke van der Merwe comes into the front-row, while the visitors can call on an all-Ireland international front-row off the bench in ex-Connacht hooker Sean Cronin, Cian Healy and Mike Ross.

Form: Connacht ended an unwanted run of ten straight defeats against fellow Irish provinces with their victory over Ulster at the Sportsground in April. Leinster have recorded three successive wins against the Dragons, Treviso and Edinburgh. The Leinstermen achieved a clean sweep of six straight wins against their Irish provincial rivals last season in the RaboDirect PRO12. Connacht have not beaten Leinster since a 27-13 victory at the Galway Sportsground on 21 April 2010.

The teams:

Connacht: 15 Robbie Henshaw, 14 Tiernan O'Halloran, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Dave McSharry, 11 Fetu'u Vainikolo, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 George Naoupu, 7 Johnny O'Connor, 6 Eoin McKeon, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Michael Swift, 3 Nathan White (c), 2 Adrian Flavin, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Jason Harris-Wright, 17 Brett Wilkinson, 18 Ronan Loughney, 19 Dave Gannon, 20 Willie Faloon, 21 Dave Moore, 22 Miah Nikora, 23 Mata Fifita.

Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Brendan Macken, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Isa Nacewa, 10 Ian Madigan, 9 John Cooney, 8 Leo Auva'a, 7 Shane Jennings (c), 6 Ben Marshall, 5 Tom Denton, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Jamie Hagan, 2 Thomas Sexton, 1 Heinke van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Mike Ross, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Noel Reid, 23 Fionn Carr.

Date: Friday, September 28
Venue: Sportsground, Connacht
Kick-off: 20.00 (19.00 GMT)
Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon
Assistant referees: David Wilkinson, Michael Black

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PosTeamPPts
1Leinster14
2Harlequins14
3Wasps11
4Castres10