Connacht Head Coach Kieran Keane has made three changes to his starting team that travel to the RDS to take on Leinster on New Year’s Day (K.O. 3:15pm).
Hooker Tom McCartney, lock James Cannon and winger Cian Kelleher come into the side having all started as replacements in the home win over Ulster last weekend.
(Video – Connacht Rugby)
McCartney replaces Shane Delahunt in the front row alongside loose head Denis Coulson and tight head Finlay Bealham.
The pack that dominated against Ulster and contributed four tries, two from lock Ultan Dillane and one each from flankers Eoghan Masterson and Jarrad Butler, sees one other change. Lock James Cannon comes in as a direct replacement for Quinn Roux.
Cian Kelleher replaces Niyi Adeolkun in a back three that includes Matt Healy and full back Tiernan O’Halloran. In the midfield Ireland international Bundee Aki and Tom Farrell continue their partnership.
Jack Carty continues at out half alongside scrum half Kieran Marmion.
— Connacht Rugby (@connachtrugby) December 30, 2017
“It was great to get the interpro series off to a flying start against Ulster and coming off two big wins in Europe it was no more than the boys deserved,” said Keane to Connacht Rugby’s official website. “They are a great group and have been working really hard and we saw the results of that hard work with the performance they delivered against Ulster.
“We face another big challenge against Leinster. They are a top side and are really in form as we saw with their performance against Munster in Thomond Park. We will be focusing on ourselves and our game plan and will try and implement it as best we can.
“We had a fantastic home crowd that really got behind us in our win last weekend, but the roles will be reversed on New Year’s Day. We will be the underdogs against Leinster and we will need to put in a big performance against them.”
“It takes time to get used of a new style and a new system and that’s what we have been working on since the start of the season,” added Masterson who got Connacht’s first try against Ulster. “When people outside of Connacht don’t see immediate results, they presume that the plan isn’t working but that’s not the case and we have seen things really coming together over the last few weeks.
“Against Leinster we are fully aware of the challenge. The RDS is a very tough place to go and win and very few teams manage to do it. The interpro games are difficult games, especially when you are playing away from home, so we are under no illusion of the challenge we face on New Year’s Day”.
Meanwhile, Leinster Rugby Head Coach Leo Cullen has announced his team, retaining only two players from the starting line-up that accounted for Munster on St. Stephen’s Day.
Johnny Sexton returns to captain the team at out half with Luke McGrath named scrum half.
Rob Kearney comes in at full back with Fergus McFadden also recalled on the right wing. James Lowe makes his first appearance in the RDS Arena and is retained on the left wing for his third cap for Leinster. Noel Reid and Garry Ringrose are paired in the centre.
In the pack, Peter Dooley makes his first start of the season at loose head alongside Seán Cronin and Andrew Porter. Ross Molony and Ian Nagle are selected in the second row.
In the back row, Dan Leavy is the only man retained from the Munster game after his Man of the Match award, with Josh van der Flier and Max Deegan joining him to complete the line-up.
Over 16,000 tickets have sold for the second interpro fixture of the festive period and the last remaining tickets can be bought at leinsterrugby.ie
Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran; Cian Kelleher, Bundee Aki, Tom Farrell, Matt Healy; Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; Denis Coulson, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham; Ultan Dillane, James Cannon; Eoghan Masterson, Jarrad Butler, John Muldoon.
Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Peter McCabe, Conor Carey, Quinn Roux, Naulia Dawai, Caolin Blade, Eoin Griffin, Niyi Adeolkun.
Leinster: Rob Kearney; Fergus McFadden, Garry Ringrose, Noel Reid, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton, Luke McGrath; Peter Dooley, Sean Cronin, Andrew Porter; Ross Molony, Ian Nagle; Dan Leavy, Josh van der Flier, Max Deegan.