Four-time Heineken Cup champions Toulouse are in for a warm welcome both on and off the pitch as a sold-out Sportsground hosts Connacht’s first home match in the tournament. Can Connacht get the surprise result they just fell short of against Harlequins?
HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 6: Saturday, November 19
CONNACHT (4th) v TOULOUSE (1st), the Sportsground, 6pm (live Sky Sports 1 red button/Galway Bay FM)
Team News: Connacht head coach Eric Elwood has announced his team and replacements to face French giants Toulouse at the Sportsground on Saturday evening.
The selected side shows just one change to the team that came close to victory in Connacht’s first ever Heineken Cup match against Harlequins last weekend.
David Gannon joins the province’s most-capped player Michael Swift in the second row and Ray Ofisa moves to the replacements bench.
Mike McCarthy will take his place at blindside flanker with former captain John Muldoon at openside and George Naoupu at number 8. Brett Wilkinson, Adrian Flavin and Rodney Ah You make up the front row.
The backline that outscored Harlequins by two tries to one in the opening round remains unchanged, with Paul O’Donohoe partnering Miah Nikora at half-back.
The electric pace of Eoin Griffin coupled with the physicality of David McSharry complete a young and promising centre partnership, while try scorer Tiernan O’Halloran, Brian Tuohy and captain Gavin Duffy combine in the back-three.
Connacht officials have confirmed that the province’s home debut in the tournament will be a sell-out. There are 9,000 spectators expected at the ground for the visit of the four-time European champions.
Meanwhile, Toulouse will line out with a star-studden line-up in Galway, boasting 19 international players in their matchday squad.
Guy Noves has made some notable changes to the side that edged past Gloucester last time out. The most notable switches see international duo Yannick Jauzion and Lionel Beauxis restored to the back-line, with the latter replacing New Zealander Luke McAlister.
The tournament’s record try scorer Vincent Clerc starts on the left wing, joining the returning Maxime Medard and Clément Poitrenaud, who touched down against Gloucester, in a talented back-three unit.
France captain and IRB Player of the Year Thierry Dusautoir returns at openside flanker in a completely new back row – Jean Bouilhou and Louis Picamoles will also make their first starts of the campaign.
Dusautoir’s international colleague William Servat gets the nod over Gary Botha for the number 2 jersey, and a strong replacements bench is headed up by club captain Yannick Nyanga.
CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy (capt); Tiernan O’Halloran, Eoin Griffin, David McSharry, Brian Tuohy; Miah Nikora, Paul O’Donohoe; Brett Wilkinson, Adrian Flavin, Rodney Ah You, Michael Swift, David Gannon, Mike McCarthy, John Muldoon, George Naoupu.
Replacements: Ethienne Reynecke, Ronan Loughney, Dylan Rogers, Thomas Anderson, Ray Ofisa, Frank Murphy, Niall O’Connor, Henry Fa’afili.
TOULOUSE: Clément Poitrenaud; Maxime Medard, Florian Fritz, Yannick Jauzion, Vincent Clerc; Lionel Beauxis, Luke Burgess; Yohan Montes, William Servat, Census Johnston, Grégory Lamboley, Yoann Maestri, Jean Bouilhou, Thierry Dusautoir, Louis Picamoles.
Replacements: Gary Botha, Jean-Baptiste Poux, Johnson Falefa, Romain Millo-Chluski, Nicolas Vergallo, Yannick Nyanga, Luke McAlister, Gillian Galan.
Referee: Greg Garner (England)
Assistant Referees: Llyr Apgeraint-Roberts, Nigel Carrick (both England)
Television Match Official: Trevor Fisher (England)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 9/2; Draw: 22/1; Toulouse to win: 1/6
Pre-Match Quotes: John Muldoon (Connacht) – “Toulouse have been the best team in Europe for the last 17 years. But getting ourselves up for these Heineken Cup games is not going to be hard – we are in the big competition now.
“We can’t wait, we have been waiting for it all season. It would have been great to have got a result in the first round but we’ll come out fighting, like we’ve always done. We had great support at ‘Quins and hopefully we can give them something more to shout about this week.
“We are expecting 9,000 people to pack out the place. That will be the most we’ve ever had at the Sportsground and we are not expecting an easy atmosphere for them.
“We know small mistakes will cost us, though, and we also know that, if we switch off like we did in the latter part of the first half against ‘Quins, Toulouse will put points on us. If we perform like we did in that period we could be down by 30 points.
“It was a very disappointed dressing room at the Stoop. We went to ‘Quins with the belief that we could cause an upset and the game was in the balance until the end but the quality of Nick Evans showed through.
“He only missed one kick and, even with the penalties we gave away in our own half, his kicks to touch were superb. I think he was probably the deciding factor between the two teams.
“But we have moved on a lot. We’re sick of the old tap on the back and ‘Well done, unlucky’ or ‘Great performance’. We’re sick of it, but we’re still somewhat there. Each year we’re getting better and better.”
Yannick Nyanga (Toulouse) – “We should have been able to kill off the game early (against Gloucester) and we had several opportunities to do so in the second half, but it was not until the last 10 minutes that we managed it.
“The fact that Gloucester took a losing bonus point which can be decisive (in a tight pool) means that we must work very hard and go do something against Connacht.
“Having played there a long time ago, I know the Sportsground is a pitch surrounded by a greyhound track, a small, intimate venue.
“It’s a special environment to play in, and we know already that there will be a very, very warm welcome. It was a short week to prepare for that.”
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
Toulouse – (Top 14 Championship): Lost 18-13 away to Bayonne; Won 19-9 away to Lyon; Won 41-36 at home to Racing Metro 92; Won 24-0 at home to Biarritz Olympique; Won 24-23 away to Agen; Won 22-9 at home to Clermont Auvergne; Lost 24-3 away to Castres Olympique; Won 56-6 at home to Bordeaux-Begles; Won 18-15 at home to Stade Francais; Won 21-17 at home to Perpignan; (Heineken Cup): Won 21-17 at home to Gloucester
Top Scorers – 2011/12 Heineken Cup: Connacht – Points: Miah Nikora, Tiernan O’Halloran, Gavin Duffy 5 each; Tries: Tiernan O’Halloran, Gavin Duffy 1 each; Toulouse – Points: Luke McAlister 6; Tries: Timoci Matanavou, Clément Poitrenaud 1 each
Previous European Meetings: 0
Heineken Cup Records:
2011/12 is their first season in the Heineken Cup
2010/11: Reached the semi-finals
2008/09: Reached the quarter-finals
2006/07: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2005/06: Reached the quarter-finals
2001/02: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
1999/00: Reached the semi-finals
1998/99: Reached the quarter-finals
1997/98: Reached the semi Finals
1996/97: Reached the semi-finals