The sold-out signs are up at the Sportsground as Connacht look to follow up their heroic victory away to Toulouse, facing the four-time Heineken Cup champions in this pre-Christmas cracker in Galway.
HEINEKEN CUP POOL 3: Saturday, December 14
CONNACHT (3rd) v TOULOUSE (1st), the Sportsground, 6pm (live Galway Bay FM/Sky Sports 2 red button/RTÉ Radio 1/highlights TG4)
Team News: Connacht head coach Pat Lam has named his side for the return leg of the back-to-back Heineken Cup matches against Toulouse at the Sportsground on Saturday.
Lam has made three changes to the team that defeated the four-time European champions 16-14 last weekend.
All these changes come in the pack as Connacht look to record three consecutive wins for the first time in their Heineken Cup history.
Jason Harris-Wright and Rodney Ah You come into the front row in place of Sean Henry and Nathan White, while Galway man Eoin McKeon has been named to start at number 8 in the back row with John Muldoon and Jake Heenan.
In the backs, 20-year-old Ireland international Robbie Henshaw is at full-back with Dan Parks and Kieran Marmion – the scorer of that crucial second half try in Toulouse – making up the half-back pairing.
Meanwhile, Toulouse boss Guy Noves has predictably made wholesale changes to the team that fell to Connacht’s history makers last Sunday.
There are three new inclusions in the back-line with Maxime Médard returning on the left wing and Lionel Beauxis and Jean-Marc Doussain restored as the starting half-backs.
South African Schalk Ferreira and 19-year-old hooker Christopher Tolofua have been drafted into the front row, while Romain Millo-Chluski replaces Edwin Maka in the second row.
The final change sees Yannick Nyanga come in for Yacouba Camara at blindside flanker, joining his French international colleagues Thierry Dusautoir and Louis Picamoles in a strong back row unit.
CONNACHT: Robbie Henshaw; Fionn Carr, Eoin Griffin, David McSharry, Matt Healy; Dan Parks, Kieran Marmion; Brett Wilkinson, Jason Harris-Wright, Rodney Ah You, Michael Kearney, Craig Clarke (capt), John Muldoon, Jake Heenan, Eoin McKeon.
Replacements: Sean Henry, Denis Buckley, Nathan White, Andrew Browne, George Naoupu, Frank Murphy, Craig Ronaldson, Gavin Duffy.
TOULOUSE: Clément Poitrenaud; Yoann Huget, Florian Fritz, Yann David, Maxime Médard; Lionel Beauxis, Jean-Marc Doussain; Schalk Ferreira, Christopher Tolofua, Census Johnston, Romain Millo-Chluski, Yoann Maestri, Yannick Nyanga, Thierry Dusautoir (capt), Louis Picamoles.
Replacements: Chiliboy Ralepelle, Gurthro Steenkamp, Yohan Montes, Joe Tekori, Gillian Galan, Gael Fickou, Hosea Gear, Sébastien Bézy.
Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Gwyn Morris, Chris Williams (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Paul Adams (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 11/2; Draw: 25/1; Toulouse to win: 1/9
Pre-Match Quotes: Pat Lam (Connacht) – “Our week was certainly disrupted with an outbreak of the flu affecting twelve of our squad members.
“We had to curtail the session yesterday and were restricted in what we could do. But these things are out of control and thankfully a lot of the guys are feeling better today after some rest.
“We’ve made some changes to the pack after what was a hugely physical game last week. Unfortunately we lost Michael Swift to injury but we have the experience of Andrew (Browne) returning to the matchday squad this week.
“Last weekend’s game was the biggest challenge we faced as a team, and we overcame that, but now we’re up against another massive challenge. We’re playing a vengeful Toulouse who will come here determined to turn around last week’s defeat.
“Like everyone we want the win, but as with every game our focus is on the process of winning the game.
“It’s going to be an fantastic atmosphere with the Sportsground sold out and I know that will only add to the occasion and drive the team on.”
Gavin Duffy (Connacht) – “We haven’t put the whole 80 minutes together but the belief comes from the fact that we can compete against those teams when we do get it right,” he told RTÉ Sport.
“Toulouse is obviously a step up but we believe in our process. We have trained really well this season and just haven’t put a whole package together for 80 minutes. That was our main focus because we knew without that, Toulouse would be a very dangerous team.
“I’m sure Toulouse will go up a level but I will be hugely disappointed if we don’t go up a level as well. We’re going to have huge, expectant crowd and at home at the Sportsground we always back ourselves. We like to think that it is somewhere different and challenging for teams to come.
“These are the nights we relish and I’ll be hugely disappointed if we don’t improve our performance because in the end of the day that is what we will be judged on.”
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; (Heineken Cup): Lost 23-17 at home to Saracens; Won 33-6 away to Zebre; (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 16-13 away to Leinster; Lost 19-12 at home to Glasgow Warriors; Lost 24-21 at home to the Scarlets; Lost 43-10 away to Edinburgh; (Heineken Cup): Won 16-14 away to Toulouse
Toulouse – (Top 14 Championship): Lost 31-25 away to Bordeaux-Begles; Won 40-3 at home to Bayonne; Lost 38-19 away to Clermont Auvergne; Won 30-6 at home to Racing Metro 92; Lost 25-0 away to Montpellier; Won 31-7 at home to Biarritz Olympique; Won 26-9 at home to Castres Olympique; Lost 20-16 away to Perpignan; Won 28-10 at home to Stade Francais; (Heineken Cup): Won 38-5 at home to Zebre; Won 17-16 away to Saracens; (Top 14 Championship): Won 13-12 at home to Toulon; Lost 25-13 away to Brive; Won 14-3 at home to Oyonnax; Lost 25-18 away to Grenoble; (Heineken Cup): Lost 16-14 at home to Connacht
Top Scorers – 2013/14 Heineken Cup: Connacht – Points: Dan Parks 41; Tries: Kieran Marmion 2; Toulouse – Points: Yoann Huget, Maxime Médard 10 each; Tries: Yoann Huget, Maxime Médard 2 each
Previous European Meetings: 3
Sunday, December 8, 2013 – Pool 3 – Toulouse 14 Connacht 16, Stade Ernest Wallon
Saturday, January 14, 2012 – Pool 6 – Toulouse 24 Connacht 3, Stade Ernest Wallon
Saturday, November 19, 2011 – Pool 6 – Connacht 10 Toulouse 36, the Sportsground
Heineken Cup Records:
2012/13: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2011/12: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2012/13: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
2011/12: Reached the quarter-finals
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