Connacht coach Pat Lam warned favourites Leinster that they are settling simply to be in the Guinness Pro12 final and will gave every last ounce of effort to ensure their fairytale season ends with an unlikely silver lining.
The two provinces will clash at BT Murrayfield this evening with the title destined to end up in Irish hands for a ninth time out of 15 but a first ever victory for Connacht, who for so long have been the little brothers of rugby in the Emerald Isle, would be the least likely championship triumph since the competition began in 2001. The bookies may have four-time winners and three-time European champions Leinster as odds-on favourite but Lam has issueda rallying call, “We’re not happy just to be here,” said the Samoan. “Our goal is to win the trophy. There is no point showing up otherwise.
“We feel we have earned the right to be here. You couldn’t have asked for a better stage for us.
Leinster looked formidable when they trounced Ulster 30-18 in last weekend’s semi-final in Dublin but it is not something which has Lam feeling any uneasiness. “It’s good for Irish rugby that they are coming good. They are all quality players. It’s good going into a game that we are clear about what we are up against. They are on form.”
Lam is boosted by the fact he is able to name the same starting XV in consecutive games for the first time this season, while Leinster lose the influential duo of skipper Isa Nacewa with an arm injury and lock Devon Toner, who has suffered a family bereavement.
Rob Kearney comes in at full-back, with Ross Molony slotting in at lock and Leinster coach Leo Cullen is looking forward to returning to the stadium where he lifted Leinster’s first Heineken Cup in 2009.
“It will always be a special place,” said Cullen. “For Leinster as a club, who had strived for some number of years to achieve something in Europe, this will always be a special venue.”
Leinster skipper Jamie Heaslip, meanwhile, tried to downplay the vast gulf in experience of this kind of occasion that separates the two teams.
“I really don’t think it counts for a whole lot,” said the Ireland No. 8. “ You could argue that they are a side who are playing with a lot of good momentum.
“They probably have the advantage.
“On the day it’s anyone’s. You’ve got to take your chances and not give the opposition any opportunities to get into the game or get ahead.”