Harlequins are just a point away from qualifying for the knock-out stages of this season’s Heineken Cup, an achievement they missed out on twelve months ago when Saturday’s opponents Connacht beat them 9-8 at the Sportsground.
HEINEKEN CUP POOL 3: Saturday, January 12
HARLEQUINS (1st) v CONNACHT (3rd), Twickenham Stoop, 1.35pm (live Sky Sports 1/HD1/Galway Bay FM/Newstalk/highlights TG4)
Team News: The Connacht team to face Harlequins in Saturday’s Heineken Cup round 5 encounter at the Stoop has been named.
The province’s head coach Eric Elwood has made three personnel changes to the team that beat the Dragons last Saturday evening.
The back row has been boosted by the return from injury of wily flanker Johnny O’Connor, who missed out on last weekend’s league clash.
O’Connor starts at openside flanker with Eoin McKeon, who this week signed a two year contract extension with the westerners, moving to number 8 to replace the injured George Naoupu.
In the back-line, Tiernan O’Halloran starts on the right wing and Tongan international Fetu’u Vainikolo will wear the number 11 jersey.
Matthew Jarvis replaces Dan Parks at out-half in what will be his third Heineken Cup game. The 22-year-old came off the bench in the back-to-back fixtures against French side Biarritz.
Miah Nikora, who returned to training last week following injury, is named on the bench along with replacement winger James Loxton who could make his first Heineken Cup appearance on Saturday afternoon.
The talismanic Parks and South African ace Danie Poolman, who has scored three tries in his last six league outings, have joined Connacht’s injury list along with Naoupu.
In addition, regular captain Gavin Duffy, John Muldoon, Frank Murphy, Willie Faloon and Kyle Tonetti remain unavailable due to injury.
Ahead of the televised clash with familiar opponents Harlequins, Elwood said: “This weekend is a massive opportunity for us. We’re going to play a hugely strong team who are English champions and top of the league at the moment.
“They’ve blitzed everybody in our pool so far. But the good news for us is that we’re going there with confidence after the win against Dragons last week.
“We had a great game against ‘Quins here in October where we both tried to play ball and we’re going to have the same mindset this week.
“It’s Heineken Cup rugby and we want to show people what we can do. It’s going to be difficult but we know the challenge facing us and we want to play our game.”
Meanwhile, England and Lions winger Ugo Monye returns on the left wing to make his 200th appearance for Harlequins.
Monye, who was named in the England elite squads earlier this week, is one of seven changes to the ‘Quins team that defeated London Welsh last weekend. Mike Brown starts at full-back with Matt Hopper and Tom Casson both returning in the centre.
Olly Kohn is named in the second row, while Maurie Fa’asavalu joins Nick Easter and captain Chris Robshaw in the back row.
Following their involvement in the Aviva Premiership win over London Welsh, Charlie Matthews, Tom Guest and George Lowe are listed among the replacements.
HARLEQUINS: Mike Brown; Tom Williams, Matt Hopper, Tom Casson, Ugo Monye; Nick Evans, Danny Care; Joe Marler, Joe Gray, James Johnston, Olly Kohn, George Robson, Maurie Fa’asavalu, Chris Robshaw (capt), Nick Easter.
Replacements: Rob Buchanan, Mark Lambert, Will Collier, Charlie Matthews, Tom Guest, Karl Dickson, Ben Botica, George Lowe.
CONNACHT: Robbie Henshaw; Tiernan O’Halloran, Eoin Griffin, David McSharry, Fetu’u Vainikolo; Matthew Jarvis, Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, Jason Harris-Wright, Nathan White (capt), Michael Swift, Mike McCarthy, Andrew Browne, Johnny O’Connor, Eoin McKeon.
Replacements: Ethienne Reynecke, Brett Wilkinson, Ronan Loughney, Michael Kearney, Eoghan Grace, Paul O’Donohoe, Miah Nikora, James Loxton.
Referee: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Jean-Luc Rebollal, Mourad Zitouni (both France)
Television Match Official: Vincent Azoulay (France)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Harlequins to win: 1/50; Draw: 40/1; Connacht to win: 12/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Eric Elwood (Connacht) – “Harlequins are potential Heineken Cup winners this year. Collectively they are very strong. I have just watched their last four games in the league and I think they are getting better,” he told the Galway Advertiser.
“They are putting a lot of points on a lot of good teams and they are getting stronger, and they will be right up there when the cup is decided.
“But after a couple of near losses, we are going there with a win under our belts so it (defeating the Dragons) came at a good time heading to the English champions.”
Conor O’Shea (Harlequins) – “Our guys respect Connacht, who play with massive ambition, and I’ve spoken before about the heroic regard Eric (Elwood) should be held in,” he told the Irish Examiner.
“In Robbie Henshaw and Kieran Marmion they have two exciting young players and with lads like Denis Buckley and Eoin Griffin, they are starting to add some depth. We know exactly how good they are but we’re a good side too.
“We are in pole position to get out of our pool. We’ve played 19 games overall (this season) and have won 16, and can go a long way to securing a home quarter-final tie by winning at the weekend.”
Current Form – Harlequins – (Aviva Premiership): Won 42-40 away to London Wasps; Won 40-3 at home to London Welsh; Won 37-14 at home to Sale Sharks; Won 22-9 away to Leicester Tigers; Lost 18-16 at home to Saracens; Lost 42-28 away to Exeter Chiefs; (Heineken Cup): Won 40-13 at home to Biarritz Olympique; Won 30-22 away to Connacht; (Aviva Premiership): Won 31-28 away to London Irish; Won 28-25 at home to Gloucester; (LV= Cup): Won 31-30 away to Northampton Saints; Won 21-12 at home to Bath; (Aviva Premiership): Lost 21-18 away to Bath; Won 22-19 at home to Worcester Warriors; (Heineken Cup): Won 57-14 away to Zebre; Won 53-5 at home to Zebre; (Aviva Premiership): Won 18-9 away to Northampton Saints; Won 26-15 at home to London Irish; Won 31-26 away to London Welsh
Connacht – (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 13-9 at home to the Cardiff Blues; Won 30-17 away to Zebre; Lost 24-11 at home to the Scarlets; Lost 27-17 away to Glasgow Warriors; Won 34-6 at home to Leinster; Lost 25-0 away to Ulster; (Heineken Cup): Won 19-10 away to Zebre; Lost 30-22 at home to Harlequins; (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 26-9 away to the Ospreys; Won 18-3 at home to Benetton Treviso; Lost 14-3 away to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Lost 24-23 at home to Edinburgh; (Heineken Cup): Won 22-14 at home to Biarritz Olympique; Lost 17-0 away to Biarritz Olympique; (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 16-12 at home to Munster; Lost 17-0 away to Leinster; Won 30-11 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons
Top Scorers – 2012/13 Heineken Cup: Harlequins – Points: Ben Botica 50; Tries: Danny Care 4; Connacht – Points: Dan Parks 48; Tries: John Muldoon, David McSharry, Fetu’u Vainikolo 1 each
Previous European Meetings: 9
Sunday, April 11, 2004 – Challenge Cup semi-final first leg – Harlequins 31 Connacht 22, Twickenham Stoop
Sunday, April 25, 2004 – Challenge Cup semi-final second leg – Connacht 23 Harlequins 18, the Sportsground
Friday, October 20, 2006 – Challenge Cup Pool 4 – Connacht 18 Harlequins 19, the Sportsground
Saturday, January 20, 2007 – Challenge Cup Pool 4 – Harlequins 26 Ulster 10, Twickenham Stoop
Sunday, December 12, 2010 – Challenge Cup Pool 1 – Harlequins 20 Connacht 9, Twickenham Stoop
Friday, December 17, 2010 – Challenge Cup Pool 1 – Connacht 9 Harlequins 15, the Sportsground
Friday, November 11, 2011 – Pool 6 – Harlequins 25 Connacht 17, Twickenham Stoop
Friday, January 20, 2012 – Pool 6 – Connacht 9 Harlequins 8, the Sportsground
Saturday, October 20, 2012 – Pool 3 – Connacht 22 Harlequins 30, the Sportsground
Match Facts And Figures –
– Connacht have proved tough opposition for Harlequins in this tournament, winning one clash and narrowly missing out on bonus points with eight-point defeats in the other two
– ‘Quins are the top points and try scorers in the Heineken Cup this season, averaging 45 points and over five tries per match
– Danny Care, the England scrum half, is the joint-top try scorer in this season’s competition having dotted down four times already
– Harlequins are aiming for the fifth consecutive victory in the Heineken Cup, their current run of four is their best winning sequence to date
Heineken Cup Records:
2011/12: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
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
2011/12: Failed to qualify from Pool 6