12 Dec, 14:42
Prop Cian Healy is expected to miss the start of the 2014 RBS 6 Nations after undergoing surgery on his injured ankle on Wednesday.
Harlequins coach John Kingston cannot afford to indulge in the romance of a past that has seen him look on as his beloved Richmond financially crashed and burned out of the Premiership in England.
The former England A prop put that experience in the rear view mirror and set about making a new start in the far-off environs of the West of Ireland in 1999. He altered the fortunes of Galwegians and brought them to the cusp of something remarkable in the All Ireland League. The play-offs were his players undoing.
Now, a clutch of those same men may hold the fate of Kingston in their hands as Connacht prepare to overturn a nine point' deficit in the second leg of the Parker Pen Challenge Cup semi-final at a sold-out Sportsground on Sunday.
I was at Galwegians for two years and I was directly involved with about six of the players we are likely to come up against, said Kingston.
I brought over ,b>Peter Bracken, Dan McFarland and Michael Swift to Galwegians and Eric Elwood, Damien Browne and Matt Mostyn were already there, he said.
When I hear some guys ask us how we handle the pressure of being favourites, I say, hold on a minute, this lot have beaten Narbonne, Pau and Beziers to get to the semi-final. That is more than we have done.
As much as there is no reason why we can't win it, there is no reason why they (Connacht) can't if they are playing, or we allow them to play, to their best. They are very tight knit unit who never know when they are beaten.
The collective sum of the parts is the total of the individuals. I know the players. I speak to the players. They respect the organisation and ability of Michael Bradley as a coach.
Connacht are structured. They have tremendous heart, never know when they are beaten. They have shown that in this competition. They have been down ten points or more and come back to win, said Kingston.
Coach Michael Bradley has gone with the same three-quarter line in his quest to out-think Harlequins. Kingston has total respect for an under-rated set of backs. Eric Elwood can still control a game as well as, or better than, most out there. Darren Yapp and Mark McHugh are playing well in midfield and can hurt you by the way they offload in the tackle.
They have two good finishers on the wings in Conor McPhillips and Wayne Munn and Matt Mostyn is on top of his game at full back. They also have a hard working set of forwards.
Bradley has been known for his tendency to tinker' with selection. For Sunday, he has made just one change. Peter Bracken will relegate Adrian Clarke to the bench.
Harlequins have made four changes. All of them are up front. Jason Leonard (foot), Ace Tiatia (ankle), Roy Winters (shoulder) and Tani Fuga (suspended) are all outside the equation.
Fuga's seven-week suspension for stamping on an unnamed opponent in the first leg has opened the way for hooker James Hayter to make a name for himself. Loose forward Pat Sanderson, prop Ceri Jones and second row Karl Rudzki have also been asked to secure the Londoners passage through to the Final.
Unsurprisingly, the backline is the same. George Harder, Will Greenwood and Ugo Monye are capable of unnerving any defence. We see this as the main route for us to get to the Heineken Cup. In the last ten to fifteen years, this club has not achieved what it could have for its kudos and history, uttered Kingston.
I would probably be shot over here for saying this, but if Connacht beat us, I would be delighted to see them reach the final once I got over my own personal disappointment. Either way, I will be at The Madjeski Stadium for the final.
KINGSTON ON THE IRISH IN HARLEQUINS. Of course, Harlequins are quickly becoming the Exiles in disguise. Kingston has this to say about the half-dozen Irish born or qualified players that have moved across the channel to progress their careers at The Stoop. Mel Drane: A consummate professional. He plays with a smile on his face and you always know what you will get from Mel when he crosses the whitewash. Paul Burke: Another consummate professional. He hadn't played since February (before the first leg). He has a long standing playing relationship with Will Greenwood and has a controlling factor to his game. ,b>Andrew Dunne: A curate's egg. He can do things most other out-halfs can't. He is a potent attacker, a very dangerous player. He came here after a long-term injury and we took a bit of a punt on him. He needs to develop his control. Simon Keogh: He has played extremely well. He is a strike runner, a match winner. He has drifted between nine and fifteen. He would like to settle at scrum-half and needs to work on his passing and kicking. Ben Willis: He has offered us certain things. His organisation of the forwards has been very good. His kicking and passing need refining. Gavin Duffy: He has had one or two poor days, but more good days. When he came here first, his confidence was not as high as it should have been. I know what is his mental strength and innate ability. He is coming on a bundle and I have no doubt he will play for Ireland. From the sextet, Duffy, Deane, Burke and Keogh will all start and Dunne and Willis may be called on to make an impact from the bench.
Gatland's Verdict. Will Harlequins emerge from The Sportsground to meet either Bath or Montferrand in the Final? Wasps coach Warren Gatland has an intimate knowledge of both sides. I would love Connacht to do well. I have a pretty close association with them. They have an opportunity to get through to the Final and play in the Heineken Cup. With 6,000 people in The Sportsground and a bit of dog poo around the place, I'm not too sure Quins will like it too much.
Connacht: M Mostyn; C McPhillips, D Yapp, M McHugh, W Munn; E Elwood, M Walls; D McFarland, B Jackman (capt), TBC, D Browne, A Farley, M Swift, M Lacey, J O'Sullivan. Replacements: J Fogarty, A Clarke, M McCarthy, P Neville, C O'Loughlin, S Moore, T Robinson.
NEC Harlequins: G Duffy; G Harder, W Greenwood, M Deane, U Monye; P Burke, S Keogh; C Jones, T Fuga, J Dawson, K Rudzki, S Miall, P Sanderson, A Vos (capt), T Diprose. Replacements: C Dott, L Gomez, M Worsley, B Davison, L Sherriff, B Willis, A Dunne.
Referee: Nigel Whitehouse (Wales).