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Confident Connacht aiming to rip up the script

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Pat Lam was only half-joking when he suggested that Connacht will be playing against Ireland in Saturday's PRO12 final, and his remarks were part of the now-familiar race for the tag of outsiders for a big game.

The head coach's utterances were followed by a 'we must be 50/1' from John Muldoon as the Westerners took up their place in the long grass. They got there first and it will be hard for Leinster to shift them.

Not that it will stop them trying, even if it feels a bit churlish from a province who, since 2008, have won the Heineken Cup three times, the Challenge Cup and three PRO12 titles.

In contrast, Saturday's opponents have largely been scratching around the league's bottom half and relying on their easterly neighbours for a chance to play in Europe's top competition.

Joe Schmidt is a pretty shrewd judge of a rugby player and, when he last named a 44-man Ireland squad ahead of the summer tour of South Africa, he invited 20 Leinster players compared to six from Connacht.

Take last weekend's respective starting semi-final XVs as a guide and in 12 of 15 head-to-heads, the Leinster player is a more experienced international.

When Leo Cullen picks his team for Saturday, he will select from 23 internationals plus soon-to-be England player Ben Te'o, with four Test Lions in the mix. Lam, meanwhile, will have eight capped players available to him.

Leinster and Ireland prop Jack McGrath said: "You can't say that they haven't done well Look where they've come from in three years, it's brilliant. The quality of the players and coaches that they have is excellent.

"People are talking about them being the underdogs, I don't think that's the case, it's not a fluke that they're here."

Lam suggested that with the South Africa tour approaching, Leinster's thoroughbreds are kicking into gear and they have far more experience of playing in finals.

All season, however, Connacht have been breaking down barriers and making history.

Their coaches have developed an attacking style that few opponents have been able to shut down and, while their defence has come under fire, they limited Glasgow to two tries in 160 minutes in their last two matches.

On paper, they shouldn't have a chance, yet they will travel to Edinburgh full of belief that the have-nots can beat the haves and take the PRO12 title.

Belfast Telegraph

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