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Facing Leinster will be the true test for Connacht

By David Kelly

We learn tonight whether Connacht truly can become Irish rugby's noisy neighbours. Much has been said about the Westerners over the summer, now they face their first real test, against Leinster at the Sportsground.

The early signs are good for Pat Lam in his second season: two wins from two leave the men in green in nosebleed territory and, if they want to back up their pre-season ambitions of becoming contenders, they must build on that start.

Victories over the Newport Gwent Dragons at home and Edinburgh away represent a fine couple of weeks' work, but one imagines what will really please the coach is that his side came out on the top of two tight games.

After collecting the unwanted tally of eight losing bonus points last season, there was a need for Connacht to learn to win from tight situations, and the early evidence is they have acquired a little extra nous.

Against Leinster, they'll need more than that. Matt O'Connor's men arrive in Galway high on their rampant display against the Scarlets last weekend and boasting a match-day squad that features 15 Ireland internationals.

They have traditionally struggled at the Sportsground, suffering defeat on three of their last six visits and, while they won last year's outing, two years ago the men in blue were humiliated in an early-season encounter.

Connacht are far from under the radar this season. Their triumvirate of Kiwi recruits may yet be unavailable, but the acquisition of Bundee Aki and Mils Muliaina in particular ruffled feathers in their rival provinces' boardrooms and got pundits talking.

Throw in the presence of a coterie of Ireland internationals looking to build on their collection of caps and the marquee win over Toulouse last year and there is a spotlight on the Sportsground rarely seen before.

There is plenty to ponder but, for all the progress made, this looks like too big an ask for Lam's Westerners given the names they are missing.

Belfast Telegraph

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