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Much-changed Leinster battle to bonus point victory at Connacht

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen took a huge risk to rest his big-name stars but the gamble paid off in style with a hard-fought bonus point win over Connacht.

The league leaders made 11 changes from the side that started last weekend’s narrow win against the Ospreys, with a totally new-look front five.

When these teams met earlier in the season, Leinster won 24-13 at the RDS Arena to avenge their defeat by Connacht in last season’s Guinness PRO12 final at BT Murrayfield.

And this 37-24 away victory guarantees a prized home semi-final in the quest to go one better this season.

However, they certainly did not have it all their own way in an entertaining encounter that remained close until the screw was turned mid-way through the second half.

Craig Ronaldson put Connacht ahead with a well-threaded penalty after less than a minute before the visitors rallied from their early slumber.

Two tries in just four minutes was an impressive signal of intent with Zane Zirchner followed over the line by Adam Bryne who picked off a pass and ran it in, Ross Bryne then providing the extras.

Connacht are stranded in mid-table but they still had plenty of spirit for the fight at the Galway Sportsground – until their rivals proved just too strong in the closing stages.

Ronaldson converted a Danie Poolman try and notched another three penalties before the break while Rory O’Loughlin grabbed Leinster’s second score, Luke McGrath’s break splitting the hosts apart before the left wing finished.

However, the half-time score of 19-20 was a fair reflection of a clash in which any result had long looked possible.

After the restart the hosts briefly took control, Dave Heffernan taking advantage as the ball was spread wide to break the Leinster rearguard.

However, Leinster aren’t odds-on favourites to win a record fifth PRO12 title – and their first since 2014 – without a good reason.

And they hit back with 17 unanswered points to claim the victory.

Just three minutes after Heffernan’s score, Rhys Ruddock finished from close range to bank the bonus point.

Byrne converted the extras with ease and then performed the same task after Barry Daly’s try had put the match beyond reach.

Byrne then completed his ten point contribution with his second penalty in the closing stages.

The Guinness PRO12 Final takes place on May 27 at Aviva Stadium, Dublin. 
Fans can guarantee their place by booking their tickets via www.ticketmaster.ie

Further information: www.pro12rugby.com/final

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