History will be made at the Sportsground tonight when Connacht and London Irish meet for the first time ever in a competitive fixture. Both sides began the European Challenge Cup with encouraging wins, so there will be more than just bragging rights on the line when they collide in Galway.
EUROPEAN CHALLENGE CUP – POOL 1: Friday, October 17
CONNACHT v LONDON IRISH, The Sportsground, 7pm
Team News: Head coach Michael Bradley has made three changes to his Connacht side for their European Challenge Cup Pool 1 encounter with London Irish at the Sportsground.
In the forwards, Adrian Flavin starts at hooker against his former club while Ray Ofisa has been selected at blindside flanker.
Aidan Wynne comes into the side at inside centre for the injured Mel Deane (hamstring) as Connacht and London Irish battle it out for top spot in Pool 1.
Connacht’s superb 30-12 away win to Dax in the south of France last week has given Bradley’s men a great chance of advancing from the pool.
Meanwhile, London Irish have made one change to the side that hammered Rovigo 78-3 in Reading last week for tonight’s mouth-watering clash with Connacht.
James Buckland starts in place of Danie Coetzee at hooker with David Paice providing back-up for the number 2 on the replacements bench.
South Africa international Faan Rautenbach returns to join All Black Clarke Dermody in providing front row cover on the bench.
Ireland-capped lock Bob Casey captains the Exiles team and is one of eight full internationals in the visitors’ starting line-up.
CONNACHT: Fionn Carr; Liam Bibo, Gavin Duffy, Aidan Wynne, John Hearty; Ian Keatley, Frank Murphy; Brett Wilkinson, Adrian Flavin, Robbie Morris, Michael Swift, Andrew Farley, Ray Ofisa, Johnny O’Connor, John Muldoon (capt).
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Ronan Loughney, Andrew Browne, Colm Rigney, Kieran Campbell, Andy Dunne, Daniel Riordan.
LONDON IRISH: Delon Armitage; Topsy Ojo, Elvis Seveali’i, Seilala Mapusua, Sailosi Tagicakibau; Peter Hewat, Paul Hodgson; Alex Corbisiero, James Buckland, Tonga Lea’aetoa, Nick Kennedy, Bob Casey (capt), Richard Thorpe, Steffon Armitage, Chris Hala’Ufia.
Replacements: Clarke Dermody, David Paice, Faan Rautenbach, Gary Johnson, Declan Danaher, Peter Richards/Tom Parker, Shane Geraghty.
Referee: Jerome Garces (France)
Assistant Referees: Patrick Pechambert, Jacques Laplace (both France)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 5/2; Draw: 22/1; London Irish to win: 2/7
Pre-Match Quotes: Michael Bradley (Connacht) – “It is certainly going to be a big ask for us but, ever since the fixtures were announced, we have been looking forward to what really is a glamour match for us.
“London Irish have a super squad and are a great side – we will be up against the same team who took them all the way to last season’s Heineken Cup semi-finals so we are well aware of the challenge they will present.
“They are a pretty formidable club with plenty of pace out wide and power up front and it is going to be a tough gig for us but also one we relish.
“They have already put 28 points on Sale Sharks, won at Harlequins – which is no mean feat – and beaten London Wasps so I am sure they are a team really going places in the Premiership.
“However, we are playing very well in our home matches and after a tight game against the Ospreys we have beaten Glasgow Warriors and Leinster in Galway so we cannot wait to play London Irish in front of a full house (on Friday).
“Our fans have been really looking forward to coming to watch the game and the players to competing against one of the best teams around.
“We made a poor start against Dax but managed to turn it around in the end. We looked a bit nervous and were slow to get into our defensive patterns, giving away two soft tries which knocked us back a bit.
“But we were more direct in the second half and that paid dividends. Now we are focusing on London Irish and the huge challenge they will present.”
Toby Booth (London Irish) – “Last Saturday we showed how serious we are about the Challenge Cup and how we want to compete in it.
“The players finished strong and clinically in the match with Rovigo and that shows how determined they are to do well in the tournament.
“It’s a case of taking one step at a time and if we’re good enough, we’ll put ourselves in a position to realise our objective for this competition come the final stage of the season.
“Connacht also had the perfect start in the tournament last weekend – we know how difficult it is to win away in France.
“Any team coached by Michael Bradley will provide a tough challenge, especially at home.
“We had great contests during our pre-season visits to the Sportsground a few years ago so we anticipate another testing match (this time around).”
European Challenge Cup Top Scorers – Connacht: Points: Ian Keatley 15; Tries: John Muldoon, Johnny O’Connor, Ray Ofisa 1 each; London Irish: Points: Peter Hewat 16; Tries: Elvis Seveali’i, Peter Richards 2 each
Current Form – Connacht – (Magners League): Lost 16-3 at home to the Ospreys; Lost 45-3 away to the Scarlets; Won 15-8 at home to Glasgow Warriors; Lost 58-0 away to Cardiff Blues; Won 19-18 at home to Leinster; (European Challenge Cup): Won 30-12 away to Dax
London Irish – (Guinness Premiership): Won 26-14 at home to London Wasps; Lost 24-22 away to Leicester Tigers; Lost 20-16 at home to Bath; Won 28-27 away to Harlequins; Won 28-6 at home to Sale Sharks; (EDF Energy Cup): Lost 22-5 away to Worcester Warriors; (European Challenge Cup): Won 78-3 at home to Rugby Rovigo
Previous European Meetings: 0
European Challenge Cup Records:
2007/08: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2006/07: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2005/06: Reached the quarter-finals
2004/05: Reached the semi-finals
2003/04: Reached the semi-finals
2002/03: Reached the quarter-finals
2001/02: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
1999/00: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
1998/99: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
1997/98: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
1996/97: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
London Irish –
2004/05: Reached Round 2
2003/04: Reached Round 2
2001/02: Reached the semi-finals
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
1999/00: Reached the semi-finals
1997/98: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
1996/97: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Connacht to win by less than 7 points