Connacht will strive for back-to-back wins at the Sportsground tonight as a Newcastle Falcons side containing All Black prop Carl Hayman and England World Cup star Jonny Wilkinson come to town.
EUROPEAN CHALLENGE CUP: POOL 3: Friday, December 7
CONNACHT v NEWCASTLE FALCONS, The Sportsground, 6.30pm
Team News: Connacht have plumped for an unchanged team for tonight's European Challenge Cup Pool 3 encounter with Newcastle Falcons at the Sportsground. Coach Michael Bradley has stuck with the 15 players that started last Friday's Magners League win over Glasgow Warriors.
That means no place for full-back-cum-centre Danny Riordan, who was in contention for a return after recovering from a quad muscle injury, while out-half Andy Dunne will be making his European debut for the province.
Meanwhile, All Black prop Carl Hayman makes his first start in a Newcastle shirt tonight as the Falcons make five changes to the side that lost to Wasps in the EDF Energy Cup last weekend.
Hayman forms part of a new-look front row as fellow All Black Joe McDonnell and hooker Andy Long all come into the side, with David Wilson rested for the match.
The only other personnel change in the pack sees Brent Wilson take the place of Andy Perry, with the ensuing reshuffle meaning a switch to the second row for Geoff Parling as Wilson packs down at blindside flanker.
The Falcons have made one change to their back-line as Hall Charlton comes in for the rested James Grindal, while on the replacements bench there is a return for fit-again number 8 Russell Winter.
CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy; Aidan Wynne, Darren Yapp, Mel Deane, Ofisa Treviranus; Andy Dunne, Conor O'Loughlin; Brett Wilkinson, Adrian Flavin, Robbie Morris, Michael Swift, Andrew Farley (capt), Michael McCarthy, Johnny O'Connor, John Muldoon.
Replacements: John Fogarty, Ronan Loughney, David Gannon, Ray Ofisa, Conor McPhillips, Tim Donnelly, Matt Mostyn.
NEWCASTLE FALCONS: Mathew Tait; Tom May, Jamie Noon, Toby Flood, John Rudd; Jonny Wilkinson, Hall Charlton; Joe McDonnell, Andy Long, Carl Hayman, Geoff Parling, Mark Sorensen, Brent Wilson, Ben Woods, Phil Dowson (capt).
Replacements: Matt Thompson, Micky Ward, Sean Tomes, Russell Winter, Lee Dickson, Steve Jones, Tim Visser.
Referee: Franck Maciello (France)
Coach Speak: Michael Bradley (Connacht) - "Last Friday we stepped up to the challenge (against Glasgow) and showed more determination and desire.
"We gave away just two kickable penalties in the entire game and that's an outstanding performance. The first half was certainly our best 40 minutes in terms of limiting our opponents, and it is huge for our confidence.
"We've played Newcastle before, most recently in the Challenge Cup quarter-finals two seasons ago. They beat us 23-3 that day but now we have the opportunity to take them at home.
"Carl Hayman comes with a huge reputation, but we are well used to dealing with that. They already have two wins from two in the cup so we are expecting them to put out their strongest side to go for another win because with Cetransa El Salvador home and away, they would then be over the line (for the quarter-finals).
"Our goal is to get out of the pool whichever way that is. No matter what has happened in the previous two matches, these games against Newcastle were always going to be massive. We need to get results in one, two or both of them."
John Fletcher (Newcastle) - "Connacht are a good side who beat a Glasgow squad containing 14 internationals last weekend, so we are giving them the respect they deserve.
"They won that Glasgow game by four points but it could have been more, and then they ran a star-studded Leinster team very close in Dublin a couple of weeks ago too.
"This is the strongest side that Connacht have ever had. They are a very well-coached team with good players, a nice mixture of youth and more experienced heads, so we know exactly what we're up against and that it will be a ferocious battle.
"They have a game which is tough to play against, because it's all about applying pressure. They kick the ball behind you a lot, they fly around and also we have a French referee which could make it an interesting game in terms of the laws being applied.
"There's always a wind in Galway, and even though the forecast says it will be reasonably dry we know the weather can be a factor, and we just have to deal with it as it happens."
Top Scorers:Connacht -2007/08 European Challenge Cup - Points: Danny Riordan 15; Tries: Danny Riordan 3; 2007/08 Magners League - Points: Tim Donnelly 72; Tries: Robbie Morris 2.
Newcastle Falcons -2007/08 European Challenge Cup - Points: Steve Jones 27; Tries: Alex Tait, Ollie Phillips 3 each; 2007/08 Guinness Premiership - Points: Matt Burke 38; Tries: Tom May 4.
PREVIOUS EUROPEAN CHALLENGE CUP MEETINGS:
March 31, 2006 - Quarter-Final: Newcastle Falcons 23 Connacht 3, Kingston Park Stadium Scorers: Newcastle: Tries: Toby Flood, Michael McCarthy; Cons: Toby Flood 2; Pens: Toby Flood 3
Connacht: Pen: Paul Warwick
- Flanker Michael McCarthy, who re-signed for Connacht during the summer, scored a try for Newcastle Falcons when the sides met in the 2005/06 European Challenge Cup quarter-finals. Current Connacht prop Robbie Morris is also a former Falcon
- Both sides put 70-plus points on Spanish outfit Cetransa El Salvador last month. Newcastle bagged eleven tries, including a hat-trick each for full-back Alex Tait and winger Ollie Phillips, in their 71-10 victory in Valladolid, while Connacht powered to a 75-8 win over El Salvador at the Sportsground, with centre Danny Riordan notching a hat-trick and wingers Ofisa Treviranus and Aidan Wynne scoring a brace of tries each
- Newcastle are currently top of the Pool 3 table. They have nine points courtesy of their wins over El Salvador and French club Brive, while second-placed Connacht (five points) are ahead of Brive on scoring difference
- Out-half Andy Dunne will be making his European debut for Connacht tonight. The 28-year-old Dubliner has experience of playing in the Heineken Cup with both Leinster and Harlequins previously and he helped 'Quins to the Challenge Cup title in 2004 - he slotted a crucial late conversion in their 27-26 final win over Montferrand