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Heineken Cup Preview: Connacht v Harlequins

Heineken Cup Preview: Connacht v Harlequins

Connacht and Harlequins will renew their ongoing European rivalry when they meet in round 6 of the Heineken Cup’s pool stages tonight. The aim for the home side is simple – a win of any kind would see them create tournament history and give them a timely boost for the remainder of the season.

HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 6: Friday, January 20

CONNACHT (4th) v HARLEQUINS (2nd), the Sportsground, 8pm (live Sky Sports 1/HD1/Galway Bay FM)

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Team News: Connacht head coach Eric Elwood has announced his team and replacements to face Harlequins in Heineken Cup Pool 6 at the Sportsground on Friday.

The selected side sees just one change to the team that took on Toulouse last weekend with Ronan Loughney replacing Dylan Rogers at tighthead prop.

Loughney was called into the O2 Ireland Wolfhounds squad on Wednesday along with four other Connacht players, Brett Wilkinson, John Muldoon, Gavin Duffy and Mike McCarthy, while Tiernan O’Halloran was called in as an additional player to train with the senior squad.

Loughney has shown great versatility this season, moving from loosehead to tighthead prop, and the Galway-man has excelled not just in the set piece but in loose play as well.

It is this form that has seen him called up for the upcoming game against England Saxons.

Loughney, who is five appearances short of 100 provincial caps, adds to an already experienced Connacht pack with the eight forwards boasting 991 caps between them.

Full-back and captain Gavin Duffy will use his experience to marshal the youthful back-line whose fresh and dynamic approach have encapsulated Connacht’s style during the campaign.

Meanwhile, Harlequins go into their final pool game against Connacht with it all to play for and an opportunity to qualify for the quarter-finals.

There is just one personnel and one positional change to the back-line that started last weekend’s victory over Gloucester.

Sam Smith comes into the starting line-up on the left wing with Ugo Monye moving across to the right wing. Tom Williams has been allowed to remain at home with his partner who is expecting the birth of their first child.

Joe Marler and Chris Brooker both return to the front row alongside James Johnston, who remains at tighthead prop.

Tomas Vallejos will wear the number 4 jersey alongside the returning George Robson. The back row of Maurie Fa’asavalu, Chris Robshaw and Nick Easter stays unchanged.

On the replacements bench, Joe Gray, Mark Lambert and Tim Fairbrother cover the front row. Olly Kohn is on the bench with Luke Wallace covering the back five of the scrum.

Richard Bolt and Rory Clegg continue to cover the specialist half-back roles with Tom Casson covering the remainder of the back-line.

CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy (capt); Fetu’u Vainikolo, Kyle Tonetti, David McSharry, Tiernan O’Halloran; Niall O’Connor, Paul O’Donohoe; Brett Wilkinson, Adrian Flavin, Ronan Loughney, Michael Swift, Mike McCarthy, John Muldoon, Ray Ofisa, George Naoupu.

Replacements: Ethienne Reynecke, Denis Buckley, Dylan Rogers, Michael Kearney, Eoin McKeon, David Moore, Miah Nikora, Henry Fa’afili.

HARLEQUINS: Mike Brown; Ugo Monye, Matt Hopper, Jordan Turner-Hall, Sam Smith; Nick Evans, Danny Care; Joe Marler, Chris Brooker, James Johnston, Tomas Vallejos, George Robson, Maurie Fa’asavalu, Chris Robshaw (capt), Nick Easter.

Replacements: Joe Gray, Mark Lambert, Tim Fairbrother, Olly Kohn, Luke Wallace, Richard Bolt, Rory Clegg, Tom Casson.

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Sean Brickell, Jonathan Mason (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Derek Bevan (Wales)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 7/2; Draw: 25/1; Harlequins to win: 2/9

Pre-Match Quotes: Eric Elwood (Connacht) – “As Munster and Leinster fans have reminded us throughout the course of this journey, the Heineken Cup is a not a forgiving environment and both teams experienced rough rides in their early years.

“Aside from the first 40 minutes against Toulouse at home, every team we’ve played has known they’ve been in a battle with us and the margins have been tight.

“Connacht fans have gained the respect of our European counterparts and Friday represents a final opportunity to show all of Europe the passion and rugby knowledge that exists across the province.

“We have been overwhelmed by the messages of support from across the country over the last few months and we’re asking everyone to come down to the Sportsground on Friday and create that special atmosphere that is ever present at rugby venues across Ireland.”

Mike Brown (Harlequins) – “Every year since I joined ‘Quins we’ve played Connacht. It has either been a pre-season friendly, an Amlin Challenge Cup or Heineken Cup tie.

“We know jut how tough they are to play against, especially in Galway, and we don’t expect Friday night to be any different. The atmosphere at the ground is always fantastic and the Irish teams always raise their game to try to beat an English side.

“We have got to aim for a quarter-final place and let’s hope four points from a win will be good enough to get us there. But every time we go to Connacht it is a big battle because they are always competitive.

“They gave us a really tough game in the opening round of the Heineken Cup and we also played them twice in the pool stages of the Amlin Challenge Cup last season. We got away with a six-point win in Galway on that occasion.”

Current Form – Connacht – (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 11-9 away to Benetton Treviso; Won 13-11 at home to the Scarlets; Lost 19-14 away to Edinburgh; Won 17-13 at home to Newport Gwent Dragons; Lost 26-21 away to the Ospreys; Lost 30-20 away to Leinster; Lost 26-20 at home to the Cardiff Blues; Lost 22-3 away to Ulster; (Heineken Cup): Lost 25-17 away to Harlequins; Lost 36-10 at home to Toulouse; (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 17-6 at home to the Ospreys; Lost 15-13 at home to Benetton Treviso; (Heineken Cup): Lost 14-10 at home to Gloucester; Lost 23-19 away to Gloucester; (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 24-9 away to Munster; Lost 15-13 at home to Leinster; Lost 20-6 away to Aironi Rugby; (Heineken Cup): Lost 24-3 away to Toulouse

Harlequins – (Aviva Premiership): Won 29-24 away to London Irish; Won 26-13 at home to Northampton Saints; Won 42-6 at home to Gloucester; Won 17-15 away to Worcester Warriors; Won 48-41 at home to Sale Sharks; Won 27-18 away to Leicester Tigers; (LV= Cup): Won 26-19 at home to London Irish; Won 37-25 away to Sale Sharks; (Aviva Premiership): Won 19-13 at home to Exeter Chiefs; Won 26-13 away to Bath; (Heineken Cup): Won 25-17 at home to Connacht; Won 28-9 away to Gloucester; (Aviva Premiership): Won 39-8 at home to Newcastle Falcons; Won 22-16 away to London Wasps; (Heineken Cup): Lost 21-10 at home to Toulouse; Won 31-24 away to Toulouse; (Aviva Premiership): Lost 19-11 at home to Saracens; Won 11-9 away to Exeter Chiefs; Lost 24-3 away to Northampton Saints; (Heineken Cup): Won 20-14 at home to Gloucester

Top Scorers – 2011/12 Heineken Cup: Connacht – Points: Niall O’Connor 24; Tries: Gavin Duffy, Tiernan O’Halloran 2 each; Harlequins – Points: Nick Evans 64; Tries: Mike Brown 5

Previous European Meetings: 7

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

Heineken Cup Records:

Connacht –
2011/12 is their first season in the Heineken Cup

Harlequins –
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