Wounded Connacht ready to front up against Saracens

Rodney Ah You to start in frontrow, prop JP Cooney in line to make debut in Heineken Cup

Connacht coach Pat Lam says his side are ready for high-flying Saracens. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Connacht coach Pat Lam says his side are ready for high-flying Saracens. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Thu, Oct 10, 2013, 14:55

Connacht prop Rodney Ah You will start alongside Brett Wilkinson and Seán Henry in Friday’s Heineken Cup opener against Saracens at the Sportsground (8pm).

Pat Lam’s frontrow took a pummelling last week, which resulted in tightheads Ronan Loughney (concussion) and Nathan White (calf) being ruled absent for the meeting with the Aviva Premiership league-leaders.

Their absence means Acadamy prop JP Cooney may well make his debut off the bench tomorrow.

“It was a huge blow for us losing our two tightheads last week, as well as our starting centre Eoin Griffin, ” said Lam today. “Our back line also took a hit when Matt Healy had to pull out with a knee injury.

“With those injuries to our frontrowers, we’ve had to bring up young JP Cooney as well as Peter Reilly from the Academy. Jason Harris-Wright was unavailable to train at the start of the week but he has made enough recovery on his return to take his place on the bench.”

The return of the province’s most-capped player Michael Swift is a bonus for Lam, however, and the lock will captain the side alongside Craig Clarke.

In the backline, Fionn Carr moves to the right wing and Danie Poolman will start on the left, as Ireland international Robbie Henshaw returns to outside centre where he will team up with new signing James So’oialo, who will make his home debut tomorrow.

“We know Saracens are coming here flying high at the top of the Premiership and will be determined to start this competition well,” added Lam. “This is a massive challenge for us but, despite all our injuries and our start to the Rabo, it is a challenge we look forward to embracing…for the team and for the province.”

Saracens have made six change to their pack, with only Will Fraser, at openside flanker, and lock George Kruis retaining their places.

England and Lions outhalf Owen Farrell returns, with Alex Goode will reverting to full-back role. David Strettle returns to the left wing.

“We have got to be right mentally and physically,” said director of rugby Mark McCall today. “Connacht really step it up in this competition – I know that from my experiences in Ireland. It’s a really good, passionate atmosphere there and we have to be on our game – but having to grind out a victory against Wasps will not have done us any harm.”

“I know from experience that we have to be on the money when we go to the Sportsground” McCall added. I think in the last four seasons Connacht have beaten Harlequins, Biarritz and Toulouse in Galway. If that doesn’t focus our mind, I’m not sure what does.”

Connacht: G Duffy; F Carr, R Henshaw, J So’oialo, D Poolman; D Parks, K Marmion; B Wilkinson, S Henry, R Ah You; M Swift (captain), C Clarke; J Muldoon, J Heenan, G Naoupu. Replacements: J Harris-Wright, P Reilly, JP Cooney, A Muldowney, A Browne, P O’Donohoe, C Ronaldson, T O’Halloran

Saracens: A Goode; C AShton, J Tomkins, C Wyles, D Strettle; O Farrell, N de Kock; M Vunipola, S Brits, M Stevens; S Borthwick (captain), G Kruis; K Brown, W Fraser, B Vunipola. Replacements: J George, R Gill, J Johnston, A Hargreaves, E Joubert, R Wigglesworth, D Taylor, M Tagicakibau.