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Heineken Cup Preview: Connacht v Harlequins

Heineken Cup Preview: Connacht v Harlequins

Nine months on from that memorable 9-8 success in Galway, can Connacht floor Conor O’Shea’s Harlequins once again as the sides battle it out for a hugely important victory in Pool 3 of the Heineken Cup?

HEINEKEN CUP POOL 3: Saturday, October 20

CONNACHT (2nd) v HARLEQUINS (1st), the Sportsground, 6pm (live Sky Sports 1 red button/Galway Bay FM/highlights TG4)

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Team News: Connacht head coach Eric Elwood has named his team to face Harlequins in Saturday’s crunch Heineken Cup round 2 fixture at the Sportsground.

There is only one change to the westerners’ starting line-up following last weekend’s historic 19-10 away victory over Zebre.

Hooker Ethienne Reynecke, who injured his calf in the closing stages of the Pool 3 opener, will be replaced by Adrian Flavin in the front row.

There are no changes to the back-line with David McSharry, who will earn his 20th cap for the province, and Eoin Griffin continuing their centre partnership.

Griffin has shaken off an ankle injury to start as has teenage full-back Robbie Henshaw, who will be lining out against the English champions just seven months after captaining Athlone’s Marist College to their first Connacht Schools Senior Cup title in 35 years.

On the bench, powerful prop Brett Wilkinson returns to the Connacht matchday squad from British & Irish Cup duty last week. He joins Jason Harris-Wright and Ronan Loughney as the front row replacements.

David Moore and Mata Fifita, both of whom were sprung from the bench against Zebre, are joined by Miah Nikora as the replacement backs.

Forward eplacement David Gannon, who has been struggling with ‘flu all week, has been ruled out following a fitness test early on Saturday morning.

His place on the bench will be taken by the fit-again Eoin McKeon who has started three RaboDirect PRO12 games so far this season.

Back rower John Muldoon, who was part of the Connacht side that claimed a famous 9-8 win over ‘Quins last January, knows the visitors will be coming to Galway with revenge on their minds.

“We’re looking forward to the game. It’s a big, big challenge. Conor O’Shea will be coming over here and the biggest word they’ll be using is ‘revenge’,” he told Newstalk’s ‘Off The Ball’ programme.

“Because after beating Toulouse (in the pool stages last season) they were coming over here looking for a party and we kind of ruined it (their qualification hopes).

“Conor O’Shea is a very shrewd man and I’m sure he’ll have a few plans up his sleeve. As will John Kingston, the former Galwegians coach. He’s coming back to a familiar ground as well.”

Meanwhile, Harlequins director of rugby Conor O’Shea Harlequins has made two changes to the team that beat Biarritz Olympique in the opening round of European action.

Sam Smith replaces ankle injury victim Ugo Monye on the right wing, while Ben Botica, son of former All Black Frano Botica, will make his starting debut at out-half.

The 23-year-old Botica impressed after replacing the injured Nick Evans (ankle) during the 40-13 win over Biarritz, finishing with 18 points from seven successful kicks.

Among the ‘Quins replacements, Dave Ward will look to make his second appearance while Rory Clegg and Seb Stegmann offer cover in the back-line.

The Clan Terrance and Main Stand are now sold out but there are some tickets remaining behind the goal posts in the temporary terraces, with a very limited number of children’s tickets available. All children must have a ticket and these are priced at €;10.

Tickets will be available at the ticket booth on College Road from 10am on Saturday morning so to avoid disappointment, get down early.

CONNACHT: Robbie Henshaw; Tiernan O’Halloran, Eoin Griffin, David McSharry, Fetu’u Vainikolo; Dan Parks, Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, Adrian Flavin, Nathan White (capt), Michael Swift, Mike McCarthy, John Muldoon, Willie Faloon, George Naoupu.

Replacements: Jason Harris-Wright, Brett Wilkinson, Ronan Loughney, Eoin McKeon, Johnny O’Connor, David Moore, Miah Nikora, Mata Fifita.

HARLEQUINS: Mike Brown; Tom Williams, Matt Hopper, Jordan Turner-Hall, Sam Smith; Ben Botica, Danny Care; Joe Marler, Rob Buchanan, James Johnston, Olly Kohn, George Robson, Maurie Fa’asavalu, Chris Robshaw (capt), Nick Easter.

Replacements: Dave Ward, Mark Lambert, Will Collier, Charlie Matthews, Tom Guest, Karl Dickson, Rory Clegg, Seb Stegmann.

Referee: Jerome Garces (France)
Assistant Referees: Sebastien Cloute, Salam Attalah (both France)
Television Match Official: Eric Gauzins (France)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 11/4; Draw: 22/1; Harlequins to win: 2/7

Pre-Match Quotes: Eric Elwood (Connacht) – “There is no doubt there is a lot of history between us. They will be smarting from last year but, from our point of view, we know on our day we are capable of beating them,” he told the Galway Advertiser.

“It will be extremely difficult because Harlequins are a quality side, but we would fancy anyone at home and in the Heineken Cup we have proved it already against them.

“I am confident going into this game. We have got the win under our belts and we have beaten ‘Quins last year in the Heineken Cup. No one likes playing in those conditions, so I really hope it’s a nice evening for rugby.

“We have proven we like to play in nice conditions so I hope we will be able to display our skills as a team on Saturday.

“Just to compete against a team like Harlequins, because their game is very much a high tempo, offload and continuity game. I really want to test myself and so do the lads against a team that play like that week in, week out and if we do that, it should be a hell of a game.”

Conor O’Shea (Harlequins) – “We know that we face a massive challenge when we go to Galway. Last season’s defeat is etched in our memory and we are looking forward to getting over there.

“I know the way Eric Elwood is. He has a really ambitious way of playing now, and people write them up in a different way to what they should.

“They have a huge number of youngsters and they have a really, really physical pack. We know what their season is based around.

“You don’t win anything in October but you can lose things by not doing your job. Not many teams come away with anything from Galway but we are planning to put our game out there and see how it goes.”

Current Form – Connacht – (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 13-9 at home to the Cardiff Blues; Won 30-17 away to Zebre; Lost 24-11 at home to the Scarlets; Lost 27-17 away to Glasgow Warriors; Won 34-6 at home to Leinster; Lost 25-0 away to Ulster; (Heineken Cup): Won 19-10 away to Zebre

Harlequins – (Aviva Premiership): Won 42-40 away to London Wasps; Won 40-3 at home to London Welsh; Won 37-14 at home to Sale Sharks; Won 22-9 away to Leicester Tigers; Lost 18-16 at home to Saracens; Lost 42-28 away to Exeter Chiefs; (Heineken Cup): Won 40-13 at home to Biarritz Olympique

Previous European Meetings: 8

Sunday, April 11, 2004 – Challenge Cup semi-final first legHarlequins 31 Connacht 22, Twickenham Stoop
Sunday, April 25, 2004 – Challenge Cup semi-final second legConnacht 23 Harlequins 18, the Sportsground
Friday, October 20, 2006 – Challenge Cup Pool 4Connacht 18 Harlequins 19, the Sportsground
Saturday, January 20, 2007 – Challenge Cup Pool 4Harlequins 26 Ulster 10, Twickenham Stoop
Sunday, December 12, 2010 – Challenge Cup Pool 1 Harlequins 20 Connacht 9, Twickenham Stoop
Friday, December 17, 2010 – Challenge Cup Pool 1Connacht 9 Harlequins 15, the Sportsground
Friday, November 11, 2011 – Pool 6Harlequins 25 Connacht 17, Twickenham Stoop
Friday, January 20, 2012 – Pool 6Connacht 9 Harlequins 8, the Sportsground

Match Facts And Figures –

– Nick Evans, Harlequins’ top points scorer in the Heineken Cup, is still waiting for the opportunity to make it 150 points in the tournament. He needs six more points to do so

– Connacht’s 9-8 victory over Harlequins in round 6 last season ended a five-match losing run against English Premiership opponents

– Harlequins have lost their last two away matches in Europe

– ‘Quins’ overall record in Ireland in the Heineken Cup is won 1, lost 5. The only win being 21-15 at Ulster on their first ever visit on October 16, 1996

– The two teams have met on eight previous occasions with Connacht victorious just twice – both wins came at the Sportsground

Heineken Cup Records:

Connacht –
2011/12: Failed to qualify from Pool 6

Harlequins –
2011/12: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2009/10: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2008/09: Reached the quarter-finals
2007/08: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2004/05: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2001/02: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
1999/00: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
1997/98: Reached the quarter-finals
1996/97: Reached the quarter-finals