The sixth all-Ireland knockout affair in European rugby history and a first over two legs, this local spat has delivered many fine plays over the years but tonight it is reaching a wider audience and bigger stakes than ever before.
or Connacht, it’s a clear shot at nothing. Beating Leinster in a one-off 80-minute game in Galway would be intimidating enough, but doing so over two legs seems an impossible mission.
Perhaps that’s why there seems to be such a steely determination in the west as they try to break new ground, with a result that would surpass their 2016 PRO12 Finals win against the same opponent if they did.
Tonight is all about producing a performance that will allow them to go to Dublin next week with a chance of a result.
They’ll ride a tide of emotion, but ultimately it will come down to execution, and it’s imperative they keep their cool as they roll out of the dressing rooms, across the Clan Terrace and onto the sandy floor of the sports field.
A few weeks ago Tom Daly got it wrong and his team ended up with 14 men and was eventually penalized by Leinster.
A knowledgeable Leo Cullen said it’s a fine line to walk when emotions are part of the equation.
“You have to be very respectful of that as long as the emotions are properly channeled, that’s the challenge for teams that rely purely on emotions to deliver accuracy with their game plan,” he said yesterday.
“For us, that’s what we’re really working on and trying to find the right balance.
“There is an emotional connection to the tournament. We were disappointed with how the tournament ended last year. Sometimes you just have to think back to that place, which helps build some of that emotional connection to the tournament.”
Cullen was with Leicester Tigers when Munster beat Leinster in the 2006 semi-finals but was back when he turned back in 2009 and also featured in the 2012 final win over Ulster.
In 2019 he was in the coaching box when Ulster put on a stunning performance that nearly derailed his side’s title defense and experience tells him these Interpro knockout games can take on a life of their own.
“It’s inside knowledge, there are ex-Leinster lads in Galway who know us well and that knowledge is a certain strength for them,” he said of today’s opponents, who have six players who came through at Leinster.
“We have to respect this piece.
“The derby games are taking on a life of their own, look back at the Connacht v Ulster (URC) game – Ulster is a little bit imprecise in that game and that drives Connacht even more into that game and suddenly it becomes quite a big lead . So that’s something we need to be very aware of.
“Obviously we’re in Galway this week but also in the back of our minds at the Aviva next week and I understand that when they get going and come under you so to speak, Connacht (we’ve got to make sure). that we are accurate.
“And they did that to a degree with 14 men against us two weeks ago when we were very inaccurate, especially in the first half. I think we strangled the game much better in the second half and of course the score exploded even against 14 men.
“So make sure we understand how to gain control of the game and don’t give control to Connacht and suddenly the game may be able to escape us. We just need to understand these images and what they look like.”
While Connacht wing Mack Hansen suggested Leinster should be uncomfortable with the expectation on their shoulders, Cullen and co are quite comfortable as favorites.
With Johnny Sexton back on the out-half alongside Luke McGrath and a new tight five that includes the front row that started Ireland’s last Six Nations game, they have all the weapons to score tries while they maintain a meanness in defense.
Connacht will need something special to get the result they want and in particular their strikers need to produce the games of their lives, winning collisions and giving the platform to Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty to hurt Leinster.
“It’s going to be a huge event for us,” said coach Andy Friend. “But you live for these little moments. You live for these opportunities to compete against the best and see how you develop. We look forward to that.”
The mission is to keep the connection alive for the Aviva. It’s in their power, but they need more than emotions.
CONNACHT – T O’Halloran; J Porch, T Farrell, B Aki, M Hansen; J Carty, K Marmion; M Burke, D Heffernan, F Bealham; G. Thornbury, L. Fifita; C Prendergast, C Oliver, J Butler. Representatives: D. Tierney-Martin, T. Tuimauga, J. Aungier, O. Dowling, A. Papali’i, C. Blade, C. Fitzgerald, S. Arnold.
LEINSTER—H. Keenan; O’Brien J, Ringrose G, Henshaw R, Lowe J; J Sexton (Captain), L McGrath; Healy C, Sheehan D, Furlong T; R Molony, J Murphy; Doris C, van der Flier J, Conan J. Representatives: J. Tracy, E. Byrne, M. Ala’alatoa, D. Toner, M. Deegan, J. Gibson-Park, R. Byrne, C. Frawley.
REF – K Dickson (England)
Connacht vs Leinster,
Live BT Sport 1, 8.0
https://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/champions-cup/leinster-hold-all-aces-in-battle-of-emotions-41532046.html Leinster has all the cards in the battle of emotions