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European Challenge Cup Preview: Northampton v Connacht

European Challenge Cup Preview: Northampton v Connacht

Connacht venture to Franklin’s Gardens buoyed by last weekend’s bonus point win over the Dragons but Northampton Saints also enjoyed a big win last time out and Jim Mallinder’s side are heavily favoured to make it through to the European Challenge Cup’s last-four.


NORTHAMPTON SAINTS v CONNACHT, Franklin’s Gardens, 3pm

Team News: Connacht have made one change to their side ahead of their European Challenge Cup quarter-final against Northampton at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday afternoon.

Frank Murphy returns to the side at scrum half in what is otherwise an unchanged line-up from that which beat the Dragons at the Sportsground last Friday in the Magners League.

Connacht will be looking for a repeat of their result of October 1997 when they travelled to Northampton and got a 20-15 win when these two sides faced each other last.

Kieran Campbell (hip), Tim Donnelly (knee), John Hearty (hip), Michael McCarthy (foot) and Robbie Morris (foot) were not considered due to injury.

Meanwhile, Northampton’s starting line-up includes three Irish players in centre James Downey and back rowers Neil Best and Roger Wilson.

Former Leinster, Munster and London Irish back Barry Everitt is a notable inclusion on the bench.

The Saints are sticking with largely the same side that beat Gloucester 40-22 last week, apart from the departing Matt Lord who is recovering from surgery.

NORTHAMPTON SAINTS: Ben Foden; Paul Diggin, Joe Ansbro, James Downey, Bruce Reihana (capt); Stephen Myler, Lee Dickson; Soane Tonga’uiha, Dylan Hartley, Euan Murray, Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe, Juandre Kruger, Neil Best, Scott Gray, Roger Wilson.

Replacements: Brett Sharman, Tom Smith, Courtney Lawes, Mark Easter, Alan Dickens, Barry Everitt, Chris Mayor.

CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy; Fionn Carr, Niva Ta’auso, Keith Matthews, Liam Bibo; Ian Keatley, Frank Murphy; Brett Wilkinson, Sean Cronin, Ronan Loughney, Andrew Browne, Andrew Farley, John Muldoon (capt), Johnny O’Connor, Ray Ofisa.

Replacements: Adrian Flavin, Brett McGovern, Michael Swift, Colm Rigney, Conor O’Loughlin, Andy Dunne, Troy Nathan.

Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant Referees: Cedric Marchat, Bernard Dal Maso (both France)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Northampton Saints to win: 1/25; Draw: 40/1; Connacht to win: 9/1

Pre-Match Quotes: Michael Bradley (Connacht) – “We’ve looked at Northampton, we’ve a lot of information on them. We’re quite familiar with (Roger) Wilson and (Neil) Best and (James) Downey – Downey having played for ourselves and Wilson and Best with Ulster.

“So we’re quite familiar with key players in key positions and we’re going into the match to win it. It’s a one-off.

“They’re quite formidable at Franklin’s Gardens. I think they’ve lost one match there in two years now, the first year being in the First Division.

“But we’re going there full of confidence. When we play well, we’re a match for anybody and that’s the intention we’ll go over with.”

Jim Mallinder (Northampton Saints) – “It is a massive game for both clubs, particularly with a home semi-final up for grabs. This is why we have named a strong side for the match.

“We are treating Connacht with the same respect we have given every other opposition club this season.

“They have earned their right to be in the quarter-final having come through a tough group and I am expecting a difficult afternoon.

“Connacht have a tough, physical set of forwards who know how to produce good ball, and a collection of backs who know how to create opportunities.

“They have also beaten some of Europe’s biggest teams this season and if we take our focus off the task in hand then there is always the potential for us to be beaten.

“Having said that, we are a strong team at home and we want to win this competition for ourselves and for the Saints supporters.”

European Challenge Cup Top Scorers – Current Season: Northampton Saints: Tries: Chris Ashton 7; Points: Steve Myler 87; Connacht: Tries: Frank Murphy 4; Points: Ian Keatley 53

Current Form – Northampton Saints – (Guinness Premiership): Won 21-13 at home to Worcester Warriors; Lost 32-22 away to Newcastle Falcons; Won 24-20 at home to London Wasps; Lost 26-12 away to Saracens; Lost 29-19 away to Leicester Tigers; (EDF Energy Cup): Won 30-17 at home to Bristol; (European Challenge Cup): Won 56-3 away to Toulon; Won 51-7 at home to Montpellier; (EDF Energy Cup): Lost 33-19 away to Saracens; Won 33-20 at home to the Scarlets: (Guinness Premiership): Lost 14-13 away to Bristol; Drew 28-28 at home to Bath; Lost 33-10 away to Gloucester; (European Challenge Cup): Won 66-3 at home to Bristol; Won 25-21 away to Bristol; (Guinness Premiership): Won 23-13 at home to Harlequins; Lost 25-14 away to Bath; Won 30-8 at home to Bristol; Won 17-13 at home to Leicester Tigers; (European Challenge Cup): Won 28-24 away to Montpellier; Won 52-11 at home to Toulon; (Guinness Premiership): Lost 27-6 away to Harlequins; Won 20-15 at home to Saracens; Lost 9-5 away to London Wasps; Lost 19-13 at home to Newcastle Falcons; Won 22-12 away to Worcester Warriors; Won 38-3 at home to Sale Sharks; Lost 32-27 away to London Irish; (EDF Energy Cup semi-final): Lost 11-5 to the Cardiff Blues (neutral); (Guinness Premiership): Won 40-22 at home to Gloucester

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; (European Challenge Cup): Lost 75-3 away to London Irish; Won 49-3 at home to Dax; (Magners League): Lost 22-10 away to the Ospreys; Lost 19-14 at home to the Cardiff Blues; Lost 32-5 away to Edinburgh; Won 39-17 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons

Previous European Meetings: 3

Saturday, October 11, 1997 – Pool 4 – Northampton Saints 15 Connacht 20, Franklin’s Gardens
Tuesday, September 9, 1997 – Pool 4 – Connacht 43 Northampton Saints 13, The Sportsground
Saturday, October 19, 1996 – Pool 3 – Connacht 11 Northampton Saints 31, The Sportsground

European Challenge Cup Records:

Northampton Saints –
2005/06: Reached the quarter-finals
1997/98: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
1996/97: Failed to qualify from Pool 3

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: Northampton to win by less than 7 points

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