Connacht have it all to do in Toulouse as they look to put a stop to a four-match losing streak and keep themselves in the hunt in Pool 3 of the Heineken Cup.
HEINEKEN CUP POOL 3: Sunday, December 8
TOULOUSE (2nd) v CONNACHT (3rd), Stade Ernest Wallon, 4pm local time/3pm Irish time (live Galway Bay FM/Sky Sports 2 red button/Sky Sports Xtra/RTÉ Radio 1/highlights TG4)
Team News: Flanker John Muldoon returns to the starting line-up for Connacht this weekend for the westerners’ Heineken Cup round 3 encounter with Toulouse.
The province’s second most-capped player is one of four starters to return to Stade Ernest Wallon since the January 2012 clash during Connacht’s maiden Heineken Cup season.
Muldoon has been named in the back row alongside Jake Heenan and number 8 George Naoupu, who also returns to the French city this weekend.
Returnee Brett Wilkinson represents the third change up front, the loosehead prop coming in for the injured Ronan Loughney.
Craig Clarke, on what will be his 10th start for Connacht, will captain the side on Sunday, partnered by Michael Kearney in the second row.
In the backs, the 20-year-old Robbie Henshaw retains his spot at full-back while Dan Parks and Kieran Marmion make up the half-back pairing.
Meanwhile, Springbok scrum half Jano Vermaak will make his first Heineken Cup start when the French giants entertain Connacht.
Toulouse have their talismanic captain Thierry Dusautoir back from international duty along with right winger Yoann Huget, who scored a brace of tries against Zebre in the opening round of the tournament.
Vermaak will partner young gun Jean-Pascal Barraque at half-back, with the 22-yeear-old set to make only his second Heineken Cup appearance for Toulouse.
Guy Noves has selected a typically powerful set of forwards, including South African front row duo Gurthro Steenkamp and Chiliboy Ralepelle as well as the 6ft 8in, 22st lock Edwin Maka.
Toulouse lead the way in Pool 3 after edging out Saracens at Wembley, and currently sit second in the Top 14 Championship. They beat Connacht twice when they met in the 2011/12 Heineken Cup.
TOULOUSE: Clément Poitrenaud; Yoann Huget, Florian Fritz, Yann David, Hosea Gear; Jean-Pascal Barraque, Jano Vermaak; Gurthro Steenkamp, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Census Johnston, Edwin Maka, Yoann Maestri, Yacouba Camara, Thierry Dusautoir (capt), Louis Picamoles.
Replacements: Jaba Bregvadze, Schalk Ferreira, Yohan Montes, Romain Millo-Chluski, Christopher Tolofua, Jean-Marc Doussain, Lionel Beauxis, Timoci Matanavou.
CONNACHT: Robbie Henshaw; Fionn Carr, Eoin Griffin, David McSharry, Matt Healy; Dan Parks, Kieran Marmion; Brett Wilkinson, Sean Henry, Nathan White, Michael Kearney, Craig Clarke (capt), John Muldoon, Jake Heenan, George Naoupu.
Replacements: Jason Harris-Wright, Denis Buckley, Rodney Ah You, Michael Swift, Eoin McKeon, Frank Murphy, Craig Ronaldson, Gavin Duffy.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Stefano Penne, Elia Rizzo (both Italy)
Television Match Official: Alan Falzone (Italy)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Toulouse to win: 1/200; Draw: 50/1; Connacht to win: 20/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Pat Lam (Connacht) – “Selection this week was difficult because of the performance (in Edinburgh) last week where we know, as a team, we didn’t capitalise on the many opportunities we had and then capitulating in the final five minutes, where we conceded 21 points.
“We’ve decided to give the same group an opportunity to put things right after last week. With injuries to Aly (Muldowney) and Ronan (Loughney) and Eoin (McKeon) being unavailable to train at the start of the week, we have the experience of John, Brett and George coming in to the starting fifteen.
“This is probably the biggest challenge we face as a team, playing a side as successful as Toulouse in their back yard.
“We understand what we’re up against and after our performance last week, I’ve seen a real determination and doggedness by everyone to step up.”
Current Form – 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
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
Top Scorers – 2013/14 Heineken Cup: Toulouse – Points: Yoann Huget, Maxime Médard 10 each; Tries: Yoann Huget, Maxime Médard 2 each; Connacht – Points: Dan Parks 30; Tries: Kieran Marmion, Danie Poolman, George Naoupu, Mata Fifita 1 each
Previous European Meetings: 2
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 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
2012/13: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2011/12: Failed to qualify from Pool 6