Preview - Connacht V Northampton, Sportsground, 3.0

 

Connacht today square up to Ian McGeechan's Northampton and their pride of Lions encouraged by and mindful of their meeting with them in last season's European Conference.

Warren Gatland recalls that Northampton "ran up 20 points in the first quarter and I remember turning to Michael Cosgrave and saying this could be a long afternoon, 50 or 60 points." In the event, with a little help from a drop of rain, Connacht competed until the final whistle and limited the damage to a respectable 31-11.

Gatland is thus looking forward to what he describes as "a good test. They haven't really got anyone new in. They'll be reasonably similar and so it will be a good gauge of how we've progressed. It's not the result I'm so concerned with," adds Gatland, who has targeted the two home games against Nice and Begles in Pool D, "as how well we can compete against them, and play the game at pace."

Alas for Connacht, they are again without hamstring victim Junior Charlie and thus confine their only amendment to the team which lost to Leinster with the recall of Mervyn Murphy to the midfield at the expense of Simon Allnutt. He drops to the replacement bench, where Mark Reilly is preferred to Mick O'Neill.

Northampton will not have Jonathan Bell in their 20-man squad but they include a quartet of Lions in Gregor Townsend, Matt Dawson, Nick Beale and Tim Rodber as well as former Ulster hooker Allen Clarke. They have played only one competitive match this season, Townsend and Dawson squandering seven place-kicks in a 26-23 defeat at home to Harlequins.