After a disappointing run of results over the festive season, Connacht are hoping to finish their debut Heineken Cup campaign on a high as they take on Pool 6’s top two sides over successive weekends – Toulouse and Harlequins.
HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 6: Saturday, January 14
TOULOUSE (1st) v CONNACHT (4th), Stade Ernest Wallon, 4.40pm local time/3.40pm Irish time (live Sky Sports 1 red button/Galway Bay FM)
Team News: Connacht head coach Eric Elwood has announced his team and replacements for Saturday’s Heineken Cup round 5 encounter with Toulouse at the Stade Ernest Wallon.
Paul O’Donohoe comes into the Connacht side at scrum half, Ray Ofisa returns at openside flanker and Niall O’Connor starts at out-half in the three changes to last weekend’s starting line-up.
Dylan Rogers, Adrian Flavin and Brett Wilkinson renew their partnership in the front row, with Michael Swift and Mike McCarthy linking up again in the engine room.
Former captain John Muldoon is positioned at blindside flanker with Ofisa wearing the number 7 jersey and big George Naoupu anchoring the scrum at number 8.
In the backs, O’Donohoe replaces the injured Frank Murphy who underwent surgery on his groin earlier this week and is set to miss the next three weeks.
O’Connor will orchestrate the back-line with the youthful talents of David McSharry and Kyle Tonetti in the centre backed up by Tiernan O’Halloran, Fetu’u Vainikolo and skipper Gavin Duffy at full-back.
Meanwhile, Toulouse boss Guy Noves has freshened up his starting line-up on the back of a facile 51-10 league victory over Lyon last time out.
South African international Gurthro Steenkamp returns at loosehead prop, joining William Servat and Census Johnston in a powerful front row combination.
Former All Black Luke McAlister will get a runout in the number 10 jersey, ahead of their top scorer in the pool stages Lionel Beauxis.
Yann David and Florian Fritz combine in the centre with the reigning French champions’ options off the bench including the 18-year-old hooker Christopher Tolofua who is fit again after a series of injuries.
Toulouse suffered a shock 31-24 home defeat to Harlequins in the last round of the Heineken Cup before Christmas, but are still favourites to qualify for the knockout stages of the tournament.
TOULOUSE: Maxime Medard; Vincent Clerc, Yann David, Florian Fritz, Timoci Matanavou; Luke McAlister, Luke Burgess; Gurthro Steenkamp, William Servat, Census Johnston, Yoann Maestri, Patricio Albacete, Jean Bouilhou, Thierry Dusautoir (capt), Louis Picamoles.
Replacements: Christopher Tolofua, Jean-Baptiste Poux, Yohan Montes, Grégory Lamboley, Jean-Marc Doussain, Lionel Beauxis, Clément Poitrenaud, Shaun Sowerby.
CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy (capt); Fetu’u Vainikolo, Kyle Tonetti, David McSharry, Tiernan O’Halloran; Niall O’Connor, Paul O’Donohoe; Brett Wilkinson, Adrian Flavin, Dylan Rogers, Michael Swift, Mike McCarthy, John Muldoon, Ray Ofisa, George Naoupu.
Replacements: Ethienne Reynecke, Denis Buckley, Stewart Maguire, Michael Kearney, Eoin McKeon, David Moore, Miah Nikora, Henry Fa’afili.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant Referees: Sean Davey, Paul Dix (both England)
Television Match Official: Geoff Warren (England)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Toulouse to win: 1/80; Draw: 66/1; Connacht to win: 20/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Dan McFarland (Connacht) – “It has been a hard run, but we have gone at it full tilt, and on three occasions we have under-performed.
“Now we want two performances in-a-row (against Toulouse and Harlequins). We do have to take into account our small squad and we recognise if we play at 70 percent, we won’t win the games.
“We have to play at a much higher percentage than anyone else to win, and everyone understands the nature of the task ahead of us – Toulouse will be running out of the tunnel having lost their last game at home in the Heineken Cup and that makes for an interesting afternoon.”
William Servat (Toulouse) – “Connacht will come here and play a lot. They have a lot of determination and they will never stop playing.
“They are Irish players and they will fight until the end. Obviously the first priority is to win the game but we could be in trouble if we don’t get the bonus point as well.
“But we respect Connacht and we are focused on getting the win before thinking about the bonus point.”
Current Form – Toulouse – (Top 14 Championship): Lost 18-13 away to Bayonne; Won 19-9 away to Lyon; Won 41-36 at home to Racing Metro 92; Won 24-0 at home to Biarritz Olympique; Won 24-23 away to Agen; Won 22-9 at home to Clermont Auvergne; Lost 24-3 away to Castres Olympique; Won 56-6 at home to Bordeaux-Begles; Won 18-15 at home to Stade Francais; Won 21-17 at home to Perpignan; (Heineken Cup): Won 21-17 at home to Gloucester; Won 36-10 away to Connacht; (Top 14 Championship): Drew 9-9 away to Brive; Won 33-12 at home to Toulon; (Heineken Cup): Won 21-10 away to Harlequins; Lost 31-24 at home to Harlequins; (Top 14 Championship): Won 45-25 away to Montpellier; Won 30-15 at home to Bayonne; Won 51-10 at home to Lyon
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; Lost 23-19 away to Gloucester; (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 24-9 away to Munster; Lost 15-13 at home to Leinster; Lost 20-6 away to Aironi Rugby
Top Scorers – 2011/12 Heineken Cup: Toulouse – Points: Lionel Beauxis 26; Tries: Timoci Matanavou 3; Connacht – Points: Niall O’Connor 21; Tries: Gavin Duffy, Tiernan O’Halloran 2 each
Previous European Meetings: 1
Saturday, November 19, 2011 – Pool 6 – Connacht 10 Toulouse 36, the Sportsground
Heineken Cup Records:
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
2011/12 is their first season in the Heineken Cup