Connacht look to maintain momentum and repeat RDS victory

It is one of Connacht's toughest annual challenges - taking on Leinster, the PRO 14 champions for the last four years, in Dublin's RDS.

But after posting back-to-back URC wins over Ulster and Ospreys, Connacht are finding their wings again. They can head to Dublin for Friday's round seven meeting (7.45pm ) recalling last year's 24-35 win as a template for success.

That was Leinster's first league defeat in 27 games. It stung, and they went on to bag the title. This week, on the back of their first loss following their 10-20 defeat to Ulster, the league leaders are wounded again. Thus Andy Friend's squad will travel east expecting a double whammy from Leo Cullen's men, and with it another huge mental and physical challenge.

Last year Jack Carty bossed the show, and Eoghan Masterson was the chief line-out poacher with six steals - those two players will play central roles again. This year they will be helped by Mack Hansen, the Australian who has set the Sportsground alive with his try scoring ability.

Bundee Aki, however, remains sidelined since picking up a knee injury during the November series against the All Blacks. However lock Cian Prendergast, who has recovered from an ankle sprain, is "another exciting option" for Connacht's visit to Dublin, according to attack coach Pete Wilkins.

He says Leinster will be more determined to get a result after suffering last weekend's loss, but it also "reassures other teams they are beatable". Connacht, he says, need to back up last weekend's victory over the Ospreys, which ensured they climbed the table into sixth place.

"We will have to play better this week. We have to back it up," says Wilkins. "It's the old cliche, you're only as good as the last game. Certainly we know externally we will be judged on that, but internally is all that matters to us. When we get to the Monday review, it's no good talking about Ulster and Ospreys, it's all about what we put on the park against Leinster. That is an enormous motivation for us, and also a great challenge."

Connacht are on the right track as evidenced by their 46-18 win over Ospreys. In a comprehensive performance, they ran in seven tries with relentless pace and ability to keep the ball alive, while defending in equal measure.

They could not have hoped for a better start, scoring a try within the opening three minutes, which started and finished with Mack Hansen. Although Ospreys opened with a penalty, Carty replied before debutant Shayne Bolton bagged try number two. Once again it was a super piece of continuity, Carty, who directed the backline with aplomb, combined with Paul Boyle before fullback Oran McNulty, in his first start, broke through. Hooker Dave Heffernan, in his 150th game, kept the momentum going before Hansen supplied Bolton, who was unstoppable.

The Welsh visitors capitalised on a dropped pass for Luke Morgan to touch down, but Connacht regained the initiative - Bolton again breaking through before fullback Oran McNulty marked his first start with a third try.

After Myler added a penalty, centre Sam Arnold bagged the bonus point try for Connacht, while Joe Hawkins replied to keep the visitors in touch. However, Connacht regained total control - a penalty try, a Caolan Blade try, and a seventh from replacement Conor Fitzgerald, to cap a most comprehensive performance in difficult conditions.

Connacht: O McNulty, A Wootton, S Bolton, S Arnold, M Hansen, J Carty, K Marmion, M Burke, D Heffernan, F Bealham, N Murray, U Dillane, J Butler, C Oliver, P Boyle.Replacements, O Dowling for Murray (35m ), S Delahunt for Heffernan and J Aungier for Bealham (54 ); P Robb for Bolton (58m ); C Blade for Marmion (60m ), E Masterson for Boyle and Conor Fitzgrald for Arnold (both 68m ).

Ospreys: D Evans, M Nagy, O Watkin, J Hawkins, L Morgan, S Myler, R Webb, N Smith, E Taoine, T Botha, B Davies, R Davies, S Cross, J Morgan, E Roots. Replacements, G Thomas for Smith (32m ), S Parry for Taoine and W Griffiths for Cross (both 49m ), R Davis for Botha (59m ), C Evans for Nagy (62m ), M Morris for Roots and R Morgan-Williams for Webb (both 64 ).

Referee: B Blain (Scotland ).

 

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