Connacht make changes for Stoop
Rugby:Connacht coach Eric Elwood has announced a team to face perennial rivals Harlequins at the Stoop this Saturday (2.45). The second and final pre-season friendly gives the squad an opportunity to build on last week’s 8-6 win over the Exeter Chiefs.
Elwood has opted to make nine changes from the side that started against Exeter with a view to assessing his options ahead of the opening Magners League game in a fortnight. Fetu’u Vainikolo, Miah Nikora, George Naoupu and Michael Swift have been introduced to the starting team while Tiernan O’Halloran and Andrew Browne demonstrate their versatility by switching positions
The match presents a good opportunity to blood more of the Academy players. Robbie Henshaw starts at outside centre after coming on in Sandy Park last week, while Kieran Marmion will make his first senior start for Connacht at scrum half.
Kieran played a pivotal role for Ireland at the IRB Junior World Championship, starting four of their five games en route to a highest ever finish of fifth in the tournament.
Some of the close season signings also get their first start in Connacht colours. Mata Fifita and JP Cooney, graduate from club rugby, introduced at inside centre and tight-head respectively. Former Leinster hooker Jason Harris-Wright starts in a young front row – average age just over 22 – joined by Cooney and Denis Buckley.
Former Ulster openside flanker Willie Faloon also makes his debut. The other personnel changes see John Muldoon come into the side at blindside and Matthew Jarvis at fullback.
Elwood admitted: “I have a lot of confidence in this week’s selection. ‘Quins are always an important game for us, one we look forward to, and we’ll be looking to recreate the physicality and passion previously shown against this side when we meet them throughout the season.
Harlequins are familiar opposition to all Connacht fans. This pre-season game on Saturday is the first of at least three fixtures against Conor O’Shea’s side as they teams meet in the Heineken Cup. Following the Harlequins encounter, Connacht will have a two week break before the first game of the RaboDirect PRO12 season. The Cardiff Blues will be the visitors to the Sportsground.
Connacht:M Jarvis; T O’Halloran, R Henshaw, M Fifita, F Vainikolo; M Nikora, K Marmion; JP Cooney, J Harris Wright, D Buckley; M Swift, A Browne; J Muldoon, W Faloon, G Naoupu. Replacements:F Bealham, A Flavin, Kearney, D Gannon, J O’Connor, E McKeon, D Moore, J Carty, C Finn, J Loxton, M McCrea.