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European Challenge Cup Preview: London Irish v Connacht

European Challenge Cup Preview: London Irish v Connacht

Connacht will field a much-changed team as they look to test Pool 1 leaders London Irish and boost their chances of qualifying for the European Challenge Cup quarter-finals. There is one late change to the Connacht side, with Fionn Carr falling victim to the flu.

EUROPEAN CHALLENGE CUP: POOL 1: Saturday, January 17 

LONDON IRISH v CONNACHT, Madejski Stadium, 3pm

Team News: Connacht coach Michael Bradley has named his side for Saturday’s European Challenge Cup clash with London Irish, the current Guinness Premiership leaders.

It is a much-altered Connacht side from that which played against the Scarlets on Friday with a total of 13 changes to the starting fifteen.

The final change was prompted on Thursday evening when Fionn Carr was ruled out of the initial selection due to flu. Mike Roberts has been promoted from the replacements to the right wing, with Liam Bibo added to the bench.

Bradley is linking Saturday’s encounter with the final pool game next Friday at home to French side Dax – Connacht need to win at least one of these games to book a quarter-final spot.

“We are taking the two games as a pair and will be using our full squad over the two games,” he said.

“We have made a lot of changes as the same team, more or less, has played the last three matches against Munster, Leinster and the Scarlets in 13 days and could not be expected to play five games in-a-row.

“We need a win and probably a bonus point from these two games and that should be enough for us to qualify.”

Connacht look to be aiming for one of the runners-up spots as London Irish, currently six points ahead, would need to lose to both Connacht and Italian side Rovigo to be overtaken.

With regular skipper John Muldoon on the bench, former London Irish hooker Adrian Flavin will captain the Connacht side on Saturday.

Meanwhile, London Irish have five personnel and two positional changes to the starting line-up of the team that lost 14-8 to Sale Sharks last weekend.

There are 12 full internationals in the Exiles’ 22-man squad. Irish, who are captained once again by Bob Casey, need another win to guarantee a home quarter-final fixture at Madejski Stadium in April.

Amongst the backs, Mike Catt starts at out-half with James Bailey coming in on the left wing. Shane Geraghty and Seilala Mapusua move from out-half to inside centre and from inside to outside centre respectively to accommodate the England World Cup winner. 

Richard Skuse makes his first start of the season at tighthead prop having recovered from injury. He is joined by David Paice at hooker. In the only other change to the pack, Richard Thorpe starts at blindside flanker.

LONDON IRISH: Peter Hewat; Topsy Ojo, Seilala Mapusua, Shane Geraghty, James Bailey; Mike Catt, Paul Hodgson; Clarke Dermody, David Paice, Richard Skuse, James Hudson, Bob Casey (capt), Richard Thorpe, Steffon Armitage, Chris Hala’Ufia.

Replacements: Dan Murphy, Danie Coetzee, Tonga Lea’aetoa, Gary Johnson, Declan Danaher, Warren Fury, Elvis Seveali’i..

CONNACHT: Daniel Riordan; Mike Roberts, John Hearty, Mel Deane, Troy Nathan; Andy Dunne, Kieran Campbell; John Lyne, Adrian Flavin (capt), Ronan Loughney, Michael Swift, Andrew Farley, Andrew Browne, David Gannon, Colm Rigney.

Replacements: Joey Merrigan, Brian McGovern, Mike McCarthy, John Muldoon, Conor O’Loughlin, Ian Keatley, Liam Bibo.

Referee: Andy Macpherson (Scotland)
Touch Judges: Ted Coutts, David Anderson (both Scotland)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): to be confirmed

Pre-Match Quotes: Michael Bradley (Connacht) – “At one stage (against the Scarlets) it looked like we would win comfortably, then it looked like we would just win, then draw and in the end were left with just a bonus point. It was very disappointing.

“We should have closed out the game long before they came back.

“We need to learn how to finish teams off, that’s two weeks in-a-row we have let a side come back and beat us.

“We need a win (against London Irish or Dax) and probably a bonus point from those two games and that is what we have to concentrate now.

“We will be taking these next two games as a pair. We know what we need from them and that is now the focus of our attention.”

Toby Booth (London Irish) – “We know we’re in for a tough challenge. Michael Bradley’s team provided a real test for us when we met in Galway in October.

“Since then Connacht have gone on to register impressive wins over Munster in the Magners League and Rovigo in the Challenge Cup.

“We need to win to guarantee qualification for the quarter-finals and to stay on track for a top seeding which carries with it the reward of a home quarter-final at Madejski Stadium. Our team selection reflects our determination to achieve that.”

European Challenge Cup Top Scorers – Current Season: London Irish: Tries: Elvis Seveali’i 6; Points: Peter Hewat 55; Connacht: Tries: Frank Murphy 4; Points: Ian Keatley 45

Current Form – 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; Won 27-10 away to Connacht; (EDF Energy Cup): Won 32-17 away to Harlequins; Won 23-19 at home to the Ospreys; (Guinness Premiership): Won 24-8 away to Newcastle Falcons; Won 27-14 at home to Saracens; Won 18-13 away to Bristol; (European Challenge Cup): Won 38-0 away to Dax; Won 59-7 at home to Dax; (Guinness Premiership): Won 42-12 at home to Gloucester; Lost 16-13 away to Saracens; Won 48-8 at home to Newcastle Falcons; Lost 14-8 away to London Irish

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; Lost 27-10 at home to London Irish; (Magners League): Lost 27-14 at home to Edinburgh; (Friendly): Won 27-11 at home to Portugal; (Magners League): Lost 53-13 away to Ulster; (European Challenge Cup): Won 35-20 away to Rugby Rovigo; Won 30-3 at home to Rugby Rovigo; (Magners League): Won 12-6 at home to Munster; Lost 26-18 away to Leinster; Lost 17-14 at home to the Scarlets

Previous European Meetings: 1 

Friday, October 17, 2008 – Pool 1 – Connacht 10 London Irish 27, The Sportsground

European Challenge Cup Records:

London Irish – 
2005/06: Runners-up
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

Connacht –
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

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: London Irish to win by less than 7 points