Connacht need to be at full throttle as Toulouse look for revenge
Timing could hardly be worse as flu hits squad
Connacht’s scrum half Kieran Marmion tackles Toulouse’s Louis Picamoles during last week’s match in Toulouse.
Of all the weeks for a flu virus to spread through a squad, the timing could hardly be worse. At least a dozen Connacht players were laid low on Thursday, and on top of a return travel day and a six-day turnaround, about the only positive is that this at least allowed 48 hours for those affected to recover.
Nevertheless, whether or not Pat Lam will be able to actually field the side he named yesterday will only be decided today. A la last week, one imagines Connacht will need to be operating at full throttle, as once again Toulouse are fielding a juggernaut of a pack and more of a controlling, kicking outhalf in Lionel Beauxis, albeit a player who has never fulfilled the potential he showed as a Under-20 World Cup winning number 10 and who is set to leave the club at the end of the season.
Much of Connacht’s success last week was founded on an ambitious game designed to move that Toulouse pack around, even from deep, and perhaps unhelpfully for the home side the forecast is for continuing showers up to and during the game after heavy rain earlier in the day, along with strong winds. In other words, a wild, wild west day.
Recalling how their second try came from a line-out drive by their pack, the likelihood is therefore that Toulouse will look to utilise their maul along with plenty of close-in running by Louis Picamoles, Thierry Dusautoir, the aforementioned 130kg Johnston, the rampaging Tolofua and co.
On three occasions in the past under the current tournament format, Toulouse have avenged a round three defeat with victory in the return fixture a week later, against Northampton, Leicester and Cardiff, albeit with the revenge mission being at home after a defeat away. That said, after losing 20-19 away to the Scarlets at this juncture seven years ago, Toulouse were beaten at home 41-34 a week later at home. So lightening can strike them down twice, even if it’s only happened once before.
At any rate, last week’s result will have disabused Toulouse of any hint of complacency, and the four-time winners will certainly have all the motivation in the world after the indignity heaped upon them last week by Connacht’s utterly deserved success. Last week, the sense of embarrassment was Connacht’s in the wake of their 43-10 defeat to Edinburgh with mostly the same side, which was hard to equate with last week’s excellent display, allowing for the huge difference which the return of John Muldoon’s unstinting tackling and turnover work. “Last week was pretty intense after coming off a disappointing loss against Edinburgh,” admitted captain Craig Clarke during the week.
“A lot of questions were asked and we were probably a bit more honest within the group and a bit more brutal. And so the challenge for us coming off a good win is to not let that honesty and demand of each other slip away just because we’ve had one decent win.”
The Sportsground can be a raucous, intimidating and inspiring place when jammed to the rafters by an expectant full house, and the 9,000 crowd can become a factor, all the more so if Connacht start well. Whatever about the result, for completing a back-to-back double over Toulouse would be an extraordinary achievement and to win this evening would arguably be a bigger achievement, it would be both a disappointment and a surprise if Connacht don’t have another big performance and rattle the cage of the French aristocrats.
Pity about that damned virus though.