Jump to main content


Heineken Cup Preview: Harlequins v Connacht

Heineken Cup Preview: Harlequins v Connacht

Connacht will make history at the Twickenham Stoop on Friday when they embark on their first ever Heineken Cup campaign, facing familiar rivals Harlequins in their Pool 6 opener.

HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 6: Friday, November 11

HARLEQUINS v CONNACHT, Twickenham Stoop, 8pm (live Sky Sports 2/HD2/Galway Bay FM)

Google Ad Manager – 300×250 – In Article

Team News: Connacht head coach Eric Elwood has announced his starting line-up to face Harlequins in their first ever Heineken Cup clash. The team sees three changes to the one that started against Ulster last weekend.

Eoin Griffin returns from a knock to take his place in the centre, a move that sees captain Gavin Duffy return to full-back and Tiernan O’Halloran revert to the left wing position.

The province’s 21-year-old centre David McSharry hangs on to the number 12 jersey after an impressive display at Ravenhill. The half-back pairing of Paul O’Donohoe and Miah Nikora is also retained.

In the pack, the front row remains the same with Adrian Flavin joined by Ireland Wolfhounds prop Brett Wilkinson and New Zealander Rodney Ah You.

The second row pairing of Michael Swift and Mike McCarthy stays in place. Swift shook off a knock that saw him depart the pitch early last Saturday and looks set to win his 205th cap for the province.

There is a new back row with number 8 George Naoupu joined this week by former skipper John Muldoon and Ray Ofisa who both return to the starting line-up.

It is an experienced side with five centurions in the pack – Wilkinson, Flavin, McCarthy, Swift and Muldoon – along with Duffy in the backs.

The replacements see Henry Fa’afili return to the squad after a knock that kept him out of the Ulster games. He joins Niall O’Connor and Frank Murphy as the reserve backs, both of whom have featured in the Heineken Cup previously with Ulster and Leicester Tigers respectively.

Ethienne Reynecke, Ronan Loughney and Dylan Rogers make up the front row replacements, and David Gannon and Thomas Anderson have also made the matchday panel.

Meanwhile, Elwood’s former Lansdowne and Ireland colleague Conor O’Shea, who guided Harlequins to Amlin Challenge Cup glory last season, has named his side to face the westerners.

It may be Connacht’s first time in the Heineken Cup, but they are no strangers to playing ‘Quins following two hard-fought battles last season in the Amlin Challenge Cup pool stages.

The ‘Quins starting line-up shows only one change to the side that won against Bath at the Rec last time out, with Chris Brooker and Joe Gray rotating again at hooker.

The bench includes two changes in personnel. An injury to Rory Clegg, sustained in Monday night’s ‘A’ League game, brings in Ben Urdapilleta and Tom Williams switches with Matt Hopper to cover the back-three.

The Harlequins management team also includes head coach John Kingston, who coached Elwood and his assistant Dan McFarland during his time at Galwegians.

O’Shea and Kingston have overseen an unblemished start to the season for ‘Quins, who sit top of the Aviva Premiership after eight straight wins.

HARLEQUINS: Mike Brown; Seb Stegmann, George Lowe, Jordan Turner Hall, Sam Smith; Nick Evans, Karl Dickson; Joe Marler, Chris Brooker, James Johnston, Ollie Kohn, George Robson, Maurie Fa’asavalu, Chris Robshaw (capt), Nick Easter.

Replacements: Joe Gray, Nic Mayhew, Kyle Sinckler, Tomas Vallejos, Luke Wallace, Danny Care, Ben Urdapilleta, Tom Williams.

CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy (capt); Brian Tuohy, Eoin Griffin, David McSharry, Tiernan O’Halloran; Miah Nikora, Paul O’Donohoe; Brett Wilkinson, Adrian Flavin, Rodney Ah You, Michael Swift, Mike McCarthy, John Muldoon, Ray Ofisa, George Naoupu.

Replacements: Ethienne Reynecke, Ronan Loughney, Dylan Rogers, David Gannon, Thomas Anderson, Frank Murphy, Niall O’Connor, Henry Fa’afili.

Referee: Jerome Garces (France)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Harlequins to win: 1/33; Draw: 40/1; Connacht to win: 10/1

Pre-Match Quotes: Eric Elwood (Connacht) – “A lot of us have been here a long time and this is the holy grail. It’s where we want to be and we want to take advantage of it, so there is no fear.

“I believe in what we are doing. We have guys here who are just terrific – yes we have bad days and good days – but I really believe in what we are doing. We are all trying to push the boat, challenge each other.

“The staff, players, the Connacht Branch and the Professional Games Board are all challenging each other because I am fed up with mediocrity and days like this are great days for people like me and for other long servants of Connacht.

“As a player I would love to have played in the Heineken Cup, but I suppose the next best thing is coaching, rubbing shoulders with the best teams, the best coaches, pitting your wits against the best. And that is where we want to be, testing ourselves against the best.

“Harlequins were the talk of the Heineken Cup launch. They are unbeaten, having had a great win away to Bath. They are playing fantastic rugby – are big and strong in most areas in the park – and it couldn’t be any harder, playing the only undefeated team in Europe.

“The big players will have to step up to the plate in these big matches. But everyone has a role, everyone has to understand what is expected of them because the fine details do matter.”

Conor O’Shea (Harlequins) – “We’re welcoming familiar opponents on Friday, but in an unfamiliar competition for them. The journey for Connacht has been huge under Eric (Elwood) and they have earned the right to be in the Heineken Cup.

“As a team they fight tooth and nail for everything and play for each other. We have a huge amount of respect for them, but we are also conscious that the Stoop is a place that opposition teams must fear, in terms of the experience both on and off the pitch.

“The crowd has become more and more vocal by the week and the players want to make our ground a fortress and play an exciting style of rugby with and without the ball.”

Current Form – 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

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

Previous European Meetings: 6

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:

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

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