Improving Connacht aiming to maintain momentum
Worcester Warriors the Challenge Cup visitors to the Sportsground
Bundee Aki: will return for Connacht against Worcester at the Sportsground. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
An orange weather alert is not playing into Connacht’s hands as they host Worcester in today’s European Challenge Cup second round.
Long gone are the days the western province prefers a soft track. But all signs are pointing to a wet and windy Sportsground, and it certainly will not help their preferred high-tempo game, or attract a highly-anticipated home crowd as Kieran Keane’s men search for their second successive win in this competition.
Having gabbed a five-try bonus win against Oyonnax last week, Keane is keen to see his side backing up that performance. Worcester are in a similar situation, having disposed of Brive easily, after a single win in the English Premiership.
Keane has made nine changes, which include a return to duty of experienced backs Tiernan O’Halloran and Bundee Aki, who partners Eoin Griffin in the centre this week, while outhalf Jack Carty is back alongside Caolan Blade, with international scrumhalf Kieran Marmion again on bench duty.
However it is all change in the front row with Dominic Robertson-McCoy being given an opportunity after a solid performance for the Eagles last weekend.
He joins Denis Buckley and Dave Heffernan, while Quinn Roux comes in to partner James Cannon in the second row. In the back row there is no John Muldoon.
Eoghan Masterson takes over the No 8 slot, and the captaincy for the first time – a reward for the talented 24-year-old who spent more than a year out of the game recovering from serious knee injury. He joins the in-form Eoin McKeon and James Connolly, making his first start this season, in the back row.
Despite the changes, forwards’ coach Jimmy Duffy believes Connacht are starting to find their form.
“We are starting to see the benefits, guys are clicking, combinations are working, and the injury list is quite favourable. All of these things help and build confidence. Winning in Geneva was great, but we will need to improve again. We are in a good pace, but we are also keenly aware of Worcester’s potential.”
They arrive in Galway having made six changes to the side which opened in Sixways with a 30-10 victory over Brive.
Most notable is the absence of England and Lions centre Ben Te’o who has a high ankle strain, and the return from injury of Scottish international David Denton. He joins Samoan international Alafoti Faosilvia and captain GJ van Velze in a strong back row.
Jono Lance, last week’s replacement who kicked 10 points in the second half, retains the No 10 jersey, while Jack Willison comes in for Te’o. Former Ireland and Munster lock Donncha O’Callaghan, is named on the bench.
Connacht will always back themselves at home, but the weather will play its part. To top this group and maintain momentum, however, Connacht need to maintain their winning ways.
CONNACHT RUGBY: T O’Halloran; D Leader, B Aki, E Griffin, M Healy; J Carty, C Blade; D Buckley, D Heffernan, D Robertson-McCoy, Q Roux, J Cannon, E McKeon, J Connolly, E Masterson. Replacements: S Delahunt, P McCabe, C Carey, C Gallagher, J Butler, K Marmion, C Ronaldson, C Kelleher.
WORCESTER WARRIORS: C Pennell; T Howe, W Olivier, J Willison, J Adams ; J Lance, J Arr; E Waller, J Singleton , G Milasinovich, P Phillips, W Spencer, D Denton, A Faosiliva, GJ van Velze. Replacements: M Williams, R Bower, S Kerrod, D O’Callaghan, H Taylor, M Dowsett, S Olver, P Humphreys.
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales).