Eoin Griffin and Johnny O’Connor have recovered from their respective hamstring and calf injuries to boost Connacht as they go in search of their first ever Heineken Cup victory, taking on Pool 6 rivals Gloucester at their Kingsholm base.
HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 6: Saturday, December 17
GLOUCESTER (3rd) v CONNACHT (4th), Kingsholm, 3.40pm (live Sky Sports 1/HD1/Galway Bay FM)
Team News: Connacht head coach Eric Elwood has announced his starting line-up and replacements for Saturday’s Heineken Cup round 4 encounter with Gloucester at Kingsholm.
The selected side shows just two changes to the one that started last weekend’s narrow loss to Gloucester at the Sportsground.
Johnny O’Connor’s timely return to fitness sees him replace Ray Ofisa, who was taken off with a knee injury in the first of these back-to-back pool fixtures.
In the backs division, Eoin Griffin steps in for recent Connacht debutant Kyle Tonetti who drops down to the replacements bench.
The only other change sees Dylan Rogers take over from Denis Buckley as one of the reserve props.
Connacht have recently been boosted by the re-signing of four key contracts and all four players will start this weekend’s match.
Centres Griffin and David McSharry have both committed to the province for the next two years as has former captain John Muldoon, with fellow Ireland international O’Connor singing up until at least the end on the 2012/13 season.
Meanwhile, Gloucester head coach Bryan Redpath has made five changes fto the side that won in Galway in the previous round.
The former Scotland international has kept faith with the majority of the team on duty last weekend but has made two changes to the pack and three to his back-line.
Into the front row comes prop Dan Murphy for his first start since the LV= Cup fixture at Leicester in October. Also returning up front is tighthead Rupert Harden.
Redpath has unveiled a new half-back pairing in Nick Runciman and Tim Taylor with Rory Lawson and Freddie Burns moving to the bench, while Mike Tindall is over his groin injury and partners Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu in the centre.
GLOUCESTER: Olly Morgan; Charlie Sharples, Mike Tindall, Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, James Simpson-Daniel; Tim Taylor, Nick Runciman; Dan Murphy, Scott Lawson, Rupert Harden, Peter Buxton, Jim Hamilton, Brett Deacon, Andy Hazell, Luke Narraway (capt).
Replacements: Matias Cortese, Nick Wood, Shaun Knight, Will James, Akapusi Qera, Rory Lawson, Freddie Burns, Jonny May.
CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy (capt); Mark McCrea, Eoin Griffin, David McSharry, Tiernan O’Halloran; Niall O’Connor, Frank Murphy; Brett Wilkinson, Ethienne Reynecke, Ronan Loughney, George Naoupu, Mike McCarthy, David Gannon, Johnny O’Connor, John Muldoon.
Replacements: Adrian Flavin, Dylan Rogers, Rodney Ah You, Michael Kearney, Eoin McKeon, Paul O’Donohoe, Matthew Jarvis, Kyle Tonetti.
Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Neil Hennessy, Huw David (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Gareth Simmonds (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Gloucester to win: 1/18; Draw: 33/1; Connacht to win: 8/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Eric Elwood (Connacht) – “We know we are capable of mixing with this opposition, but they will be a different proposition at home and that’s the challenge for us,” he told the Galway Advertiser.
“Both teams were in a difficult place because we both had bad runs. At the moment we are frustrated with our performance and we know there is more in us.
“We all want the same thing, we want that elusive win, but you have to earn it. You have to be at your best, keep performance levels up, respect the ball when you have it and work hard in defence.”
Bryan Redpath (Gloucester) – “Last Saturday’s win wasn’t pretty in parts but it was key to get the result, and we did. Our error count and discipline was much better than of late and that made a huge difference to our performance.
“We’ve talked about what happened last year in the corresponding fixture when we won in La Rochelle and were then defeated at home by the same side who some people said wouldn’t travel very well.
“We know that Connacht will not be coming here just to lie down. Conditions are not looking great which is a great leveller and we’re going to have to be mentally strong.”
Current Form – Gloucester – (Aviva Premiership): Lost 26-24 away to Northampton Saints; Won 29-8 at home to Worcester Warriors; Lost 42-6 away to Harlequins; Won 23-6 at home to Bath; Won 33-30 at home to London Irish; Lost 13-11 away to Sale Sharks; (LV= Cup): Won 58-27 at home to Sale Sharks; Lost 40-14 away to Leicester Tigers; (Aviva Premiership): Lost 19-17 at home to Saracens; Won 24-19 away to Exeter Chiefs; (Heineken Cup): Lost 21-17 away to Toulouse; Lost 28-9 at home to Harlequins; (Aviva Premiership): Lost 19-14 at home to Leicester Tigers; Lost 26-25 away to Newcastle Falcons; (Heineken Cup): Won 14-10 away to Connacht
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
Top Scorers – 2011/12 Heineken Cup: Gloucester – Points: Freddie Burns 25; Tries: Charlie Sharples, Henry Trinder, James Simpson-Daniel 1 each; Connacht – Points: Miah Nikora, Gavin Duffy 10 each; Tries: Gavin Duffy 2
Previous European Meetings: 1
Saturday, December 10, 2011 – Pool 6 – Connacht 10 Gloucester 14, the Sportsground
Heineken Cup Records:
2009/10: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
2008/09: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2007/08: Reached the quarter-finals
2006/07: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
2004/05: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2003/04: Reached the quarter-finals
2002/03: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
2000/01: Reached the semi-finals
2011/12 is their first season in the Heineken Cup