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Heineken Cup Preview: Connacht v Saracens

Heineken Cup Preview: Connacht v Saracens

The Heineken Cup rolls back into Galway tonight where Connacht entertain Saracens, the current Aviva Premiership leaders and semi-finalists in Europe last season. Pat Lam will be hoping his centre partnership of Robbie Henshaw and James So’oialo can fire in its first outing.

HEINEKEN CUP POOL 3: Friday, October 11

CONNACHT v SARACENS, the Sportsground, 8pm (live Galway Bay FM/Sky Sports 1 red button/highlights TG4)

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Team News: Lock Michael Swift will return to the starting line-up for Connacht on Friday, with the province’s most-capped player captaining them in their opening Heineken Cup Pool 3 clash with Saracens at the Sportsground.

Head coach Pat Lam has made a number of changes to the side that started against Benetton Treviso last weekend.

Rodney Ah You, on what will be his 50th appearance for the province, will start at tighthead prop and is joined in the front row by Brett Wilkinson and hooker Sean Henry.

Galway man John Muldoon is named in the back row at blindside flanker, making his ninth Heineken Cup appearance for Connacht.

In the backs, Fionn Carr moves to the right wing, allowing Danie Poolman to start on the left. Ireland international Robbie Henshaw returns to outside centre this week and partners new signing James So’oialo who makes his debut at the Sportsground.

There is cover from the replacements bench in the form of hooker Jason Harris-Wright who returns from injury. Connacht Academy and former Ireland Under-20 prop Peter Reilly is in line to make his debut if called upon.

Meanwhile, Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall has made a number of changes to the team that overcame London Wasps 19-12 last weekend in the Aviva Premiership.

Only flanker Will Fraser and lock George Kruis retain their places up front as the English league leaders make six changes to the starting pack.

2013 Lions Mako Vunipola and Matt Stevens start in the front row alongside hooker Schalk Brits, while captain Steve Borthwick partners Kruis at lock and the back row is completed by Scotland skipper Kelly Brown and Billy Vunipola, Mako’s younger brother who made his debut for England against Argentina in June.

Another Lion Owen Farrell returns to the out-half berth with fellow England international Alex Goode reverting to his more accustomed position of full-back.

Chris Wyles and Joel Tomkins continue to partner each other in the centre, and David Strettle returns to the left wing. Former rugby league player Tomkins is the only player in the Sarries’ back-line without an international union cap.

CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy; Fionn Carr, Robbie Henshaw, James So’oialo, Danie Poolman; Dan Parks, Kieran Marmion; Brett Wilkinson, Sean Henry, Rodney Ah You, Michael Swift (capt), Craig Clarke, John Muldoon, Jake Heenan, George Naoupu.

Replacements: Jason Harris-Wright, Peter Reilly, JP Cooney, Aly Muldowney, Andrew Browne, Paul O’Donohoe, Craig Ronaldson, Tiernan O’Halloran.

SARACENS: Alex Goode; Chris Ashton, Joel Tomkins, Chris Wyles, David Strettle; Owen Farrell, Neil de Kock; Mako Vunipola, Schalk Brits, Matt Stevens, Steve Borthwick (capt), George Kruis, Kelly Brown, Will Fraser, Billy Vunipola.

Replacements: Jamie George, Rhys Gill, James Johnston, Alistair Hargreaves, Ernst Joubert, Richard Wigglesworth, Duncan Taylor, Michael Tagicakibau.

Referee: Pascal Gauzere (France)
Assistant Referees: Alexandre Ruiz, Jean-Luc Rebollal (both France)
Television Match Official: Daniel Irazoqui (France)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 8/1; Draw: 25/1; Saracens to win: 1/14

Pre-Match Quotes: John Muldoon (Connacht) – “This competition is so special. We haven’t been in it long but we’ve loved every minute we have been in it. And the supporters really add to the excitement here in Connacht.

“They have gotten behind us from the start and those nights running out to a full Sportsground, it means so much us as a team.

“There’s so much passion involved and I know that every guy who is lucky enough to pull on a jersey this Friday will give everything to the cause.

“We know this week is a huge challenge against Saracens…but it’s exciting. Yes, we’re the underdogs again, but we’ve proven in past games that we can overcome that label.

“Saracens are the type of team you want to be playing against. There’s so much quality in these sides you’re up against and that’s what brings out the best in players.

“We haven’t played each other competitively before and with two teams so up for it this will be a great game for our fans.”

Mark McCall (Saracens) – “We have got to be right mentally and physically. Connacht really step it up in this competition – I know that from my experiences in Ireland.

“It’s a really good, passionate atmosphere there (in Galway) and we have to be on our game, but having to grind out a victory against Wasps (last time out) will not have done us any harm.

“I know from experience that we have to be on the money when we go to the Sportsground.

“I think in the last four seasons Connacht have beaten the likes of Harlequins and Biarritz in Galway. If that doesn’t focus our mind, I’m not sure what does.”

Current Form – Connacht – (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 25-16 at home to Zebre; Lost 21-10 away to the Cardiff Blues; Lost 18-7 at home to Ulster; Lost 43-26 at home to the Ospreys; Lost 23-3 away to Benetton Treviso

Saracens – (Aviva Premiership): Won 42-20 away to London Irish; Won 44-12 at home to Gloucester; Won 31-17 at home to Bath; Won 22-12 away to Harlequins; Won 19-12 at home to London Wasps

Previous European Meetings: 0

Heineken Cup Records:

Connacht –
2012/13: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2011/12: Failed to qualify from Pool 6

Saracens –
2012/13: Reached the semi-finals
2011/12: Reached the quarter-finals
2010/11: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
2007/08: Reached the semi-finals
2005/06: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
1999/00: Failed to qualify from Pool 4