Daunting test facing Connacht in Paris
Outbreak of Covid-19 in visitors’ camp a disruption in advance of clash with Racing 92
Racing’s Finn Russell takes on Sam Simmonds and Harry Williams of Exeter during the Champions Cup final at Ashton Gate Stadium, Bristol. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Connacht’s preparations for this historic first meeting with Racing 92 have been disrupted by a first positive case of Covid-19 within their senior squad. As a consequence, one player along with three others deemed as close contacts have been ruled out of this game.
Those close contacts and all other players and management underwent a second round of PCR testing on Thursday and produced no further positive results.
Connacht welcome back four of their half-dozen internationals who have been on duty with Ireland, namely Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham in the frontrow, lock Ultan Dillane and scrumhalf Kieran Marmion, while Bundee Aki is on the bench, where he is joined by a fit-again Tiernan O’Halloran. But Quinn Roux has been ruled out.
Connacht look a little underpowered as a result against a Racing side which have plenty of ballast to go with their bravura.
Speaking of the latter, Finn Russell is back from injury at outhalf and is restored along with Teddy Iribaren. They are two of eight changes by Laurent Travers from the side which won in Bordeaux 17-12 last weekend.
Like everyone else at the expensively-assembled and ambitious Parisian club, Travers (a winner with Brive in 1997) is desperate for Racing to win the trophy for the first time after losing last season’s final eight weeks ago against Exeter in a game they should have won.
French internationals Camille Chat and Bernard Le Roux are brought back into the front row while Donovan Taofifenua, a 21-year-old member of France’s Under-20 World Cup win in 2019 who was called up to the French squad last week, is chosen on the left wing. With Kurtley Beale retained at full-back, Simon Zebo thus moves to the bench, where he is joined by Donnacha Ryan.
Connacht’s attacking brand of rugby is suited to the 4G arena at the cinematic La Defense Arena, where the additional ball in play time makes it a test of fitness in what is liable to be a fast-flowing encounter.
“There’s arguably no bigger challenge in European rugby than what we’ve got this weekend, but it’s one we’re absolutely relishing,” said Andy Friend, who wants his players to defend in Racing’s faces.
“They’re full of talent across the field in an impressive stadium, but in the end of the day we must back ourselves from the get-go and fully believe we can get a result. If we do that and bring the level of energy and physicality that I know we’re capable of, then the result will take care of itself.”
Racing 92: Kurtley Beale; Teddy Thomas, Virimi Vakatawa, Henry Chavancy (capt), Donovan Taofifenua; Finn Russell, Teddy Iribaren; Eddy Ben Arous, Camille Chat, Georges Henri Colombe, Bernard Le Roux, Dominic Bird, Wenceslas Lauret, Baptiste Chouzenoux, Fabien Sanconnie.
Replacements: Kevin Le Guen, Guram Gogichashvili, Cedate Gomes Sa, Donnacha Ryan, Ibrahim Diallo, Maxime Machenaud, Antoine Gibert, Simon Zebo.
Connacht: John Porch; Alex Wootton, Sam Arnold, Tom Daly, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, David Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Eoghan Masterson, Ultan Dillane, Sean Masterson, Jarrad Butler (capt), Paul Boyle.
Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Jordan Duggan, Jack Aungier, Cian Prendergast, Conor Oliver, Caolin Blade, Bundee Aki, Tiernan O’Halloran.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Forecast: Racing to win.