Harlequins won't be stopped at The Stoop
One of only three sides unbeaten in this year’s competition along with Clermont and Toulon, Harlequins need just one point to qualify for the knock-out phase. Dominant in the pool, they have a 10- point lead over nearest rivals Biarritz.
It’s a tough match for Connacht, who lost the first meeting in the Sportsground 22-30. Eric Elwood travels to London knowing his side needs two bonus point wins as well as other teams such as Montpellier, Leicester and Munster in other pools to implode to have any chance of qualification.
Missing Dan Parks and Danie Poolman there are three changes to the team that beat Dragons last Saturday. Tiernan O’Halloran starts on the right wing, in place of Poolman, while Fetu’u Vainikolo is on the other wing, with Matthew Jarvis replacing Parks at outhalf for what will be just his third Heineken Cup game.
The 22-year-old came off the bench in the games against Biarritz and has big shoes to fill. Of all the weeks, this is the one where the team could have done with all Parks’ international experience.
Johnny O’Connor returns to the backrow after missing out last week, with Eoin McKeon moving to number eight for the injured George Naoupu.
“They’ve blitzed everybody in our pool so far,” said Elwood, knowing the magnitude of the challenge his side faces in former Irish team mate Conor O’Shea’s side.
Quins are the top points and try scorers in the Heineken Cup this season, averaging 45 points and over five tries per match, while England scrumhalf Danny Care is the joint-top try-scorer in this season’s tournament, having touched down four times.
“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 mind-set this week,” said Elwood. Harlequins are aiming for their fifth consecutive victory, the current run of four their best sequence to date in the competition.
HARLEQUINS: M Brown; T Williams, M Hopper, T Casson, U Monye; N Evans, D Care; J Marler, J Gray, J Johnston, O Kohn, G Robson, M Fa’asavalu, C Robshaw (capt), N Easter. Replacements: R Buchanan, M Lambert, W Collier, C Matthews, T Guest, K Dickson, B Botica, G Lowe.
CONNACHT: R Henshaw; T O’Halloran, E Griffin, D McSharry, F Vainikolo; M Jarvis, K Marmion; D Buckley, J Harris-Wright, N White (capt); M Swift, M McCarthy; A Browne, J O’Connor, E McKeon. Replacements: E Reynecke, B Wilkinson, R Loughney, M Kearney, E Grace, P O’Donohoe, M Nikora, J Loxton. Referee: N Pasterson (SRU) Verdict: Home win.