Connacht face a right mauling in the lion’s den of Toulouse
For the travelling players, now under the captaincy of Craig Clarke, this is why they play professional rugby
Toulouse’s winger Hosea Gear: Connacht won’t be looking forward to his storming runs down the left.
There is a worry for Connacht similar to concerns about Leinster and even Munster’s well being when they headed deep into French rugby country at the turn of the century. Not that the players need to hear such condescending talk.
The comparison in budget and indeed quality of players is too stark tomorrow for anything like the Ireland versus New Zealand game to spark a massive upset.
But for the travelling players, now under the captaincy of Craig Clarke, this is what they play professional rugby for; a chance to go into the lion’s den and compare their skills and strength with the greatest rugby club in the world.
The heavy loss of Connacht’s foreigner backs, Danie Poolman and James So’oialo, will be exacerbated by the sight of Hosea Gear storming down the left wing for Toulouse.
Caught for pace
Fionn Carr won’t be caught for pace against Gear but we saw what happened to Keith Earls when he tried to mill the big All Black into touch last year (Gear’s forearm knocked him senseless). And they have recruited former Springbok scrumhalf Jano Vermaak to replace Byron Kelleher.
So Connacht, like Leinster, have named an all-Irish qualified backline besides outhalf Dan Parks. The difference is it isn’t by choice, but it is still encouraging as the Robbie Henshaw experiment at centre is shelved for the time being (not that it will make much difference to Darren Cave’s plight).
Parks’ form really must improve if they are to stay with the French superpower.
Up front Clarke is joined by fellow gnarled Kiwis Nathan White, Jake Heenan and George Naoupu. It is also a warzone that will bring the best out of Portumna’s finest John Muldoon. But even a bonus point seems out of reach.
The Toulouse machine can respond to the belligerence of the aforementioned, with Springbok colossus Guthro Steenkamp and Samoan monster Census Johnston to run matters at scrum time. Then there is the almost great Yoann Maestri at lock, while the legendary status of Thierry Dusautoir merely grew during November. We could go on, and on, with a backline that promises to sparkle.
All this comes off the back of Pat Lam’s charges being whipped out of Murrayfield last weekend. “Playing Toulouse certainly focuses the mind,” said Craig Ronaldson. “It’s nice going back into the Heineken Cup , it gears up the intensity in training this week for what will hopefully be a big performance.”
Connacht sat down and looked at how Ireland lifted their intensity before the supposedly dead rubber at the end of November.
The pathway from the Australia performance to New Zealand is not dissimilar to Edinburgh and on to Toulouse.
“It’s something we looked at. We have been very close to a lot of good teams this season and a lot fo those results could have gone our way. It is something we are looking at. Even in that Edinburgh game.
“It is a reoccurring theme at the moment. I don’t think we are playing badly it is just in patches things like discipline and turnovers are killing us.
“We need a big effort from everyone. We can’t afford to have one or two guys off their game. We need a big performance for 80 minutes.”
We know what can almost be achieved by adopting that attitude right across the board. Almost.
TOULOUSE: C Poitrenaud; Y Huget, F Fritz, Y David, H Gear; JP Barraque, J Vermaak; G Steenkamp, C Ralepelle, C Johnston; E Maka, Y Maestri; Y Camara, T Dusautoir, L Picamoles. Replacements: J Bregvadze, S Ferreira, Y Montes, R Millo-Chluski, C Tolofua, J-M Doussain, L Beauxis, T Matanavou.
CONNACHT: R Henshaw; F Carr, E Griffin, D McSharry, M Healy; D Parks, K Marmion; B Wilkinson, S Henry, N White; M Kearney, C Clarke (capt); J Muldoon, J Heenan, G Naoupu. Replacements: J Harris Wright, D Buckley, R Ah You, M Swift, E McKeon, F Murphy, C Ronaldson, G Duffy.
Referee: M Mitrea (Italy).
Forecast: Toulouse by a lot.