Connacht aim to continue winning streak in new season

Continuity of line-up in champions’ favour against a Glasgow side littered with test players

Cian Kelleher: to  make his competitive debut for Connacht. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Cian Kelleher: to make his competitive debut for Connacht. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

At Connacht’s celebratory homecoming last May, John Muldoon declared: “We will see you all in September. We have a title to defend!” Well, the champions are back and their supporters will be out in force again, the opening weekend underlining Connacht’s newfound status in a reprise of their final two games of last season, again hosting their predecessors as champions.

Unlike last season’s muted kick-off under the mighty shadow of the World Cup, the champions and the Guinness Pro12 hit the ground running. The Sky cameras are here for the prized Saturday tea-time kick-off, and the presence of the world’s best referee, Nigel Owens, adds to the sense of occasion.

Connacht are dining with the glitterati now, and they don’t intend to fade away.

Three of their starting line-up from the semi-final, which was retained in the final, have moved on – Robbie Henshaw, AJ MacGinty and Aly Muldowney. All told, Pat Lam has been obliged to make seven changes to that line-up given the summer exertions of Tiernan O’Halloran, Matt Healy and Kieran Marmion, and injury to Jake Heenan.

If it ain’t broke

Eoin Griffin

Jack Carty, Denis Buckley and Nepia Fox-Matamua were hors de combat on the run-in, while Caolin Blade and Danny Qualter are well-honed in Connacht’s ways under Lam and co.

Gregor Townsend retains nine of his semi-final starting line-up in a team comparatively littered with test players, albeit with some positional shuffling. Italian wing Leonardo Sarto makes his competitive debut, as should former All Black hooker Corey Flynn and Namibian international second-row Tjiuee Uanivi off the bench.

These two ambitious running outfits could be hampered by the inclement forecast, but as their three meetings last season demonstrated, they tend not to do dull.

CONNACHT: C Kelleher; N Adeolokun, E Griffin, B Aki, M Healy; J Carty, C Blade; D Buckley, T McCartney, F Bealham, U Dillane, D Qualter, E McKeon, N Fox-Matamua, J Muldoon (c).

Replacements: D Heffernan, R Loughney, JP Cooney, L Stevenson, J Connolly, K Marmion, S O’Leary, P Robb.

GLASGOW: S Hogg; L Sarto, A Dunbar, S Johnson, T Seymour; P Horne, H Pyrgos (co-c), G Reid, Pat MacArthur, Zander Fagerson, Tim Swinson, Jonny Gray (co-c), R Harley, S Favaro, R Wilson.

Replacements: C Flynn, R Grant, S Puafisi, T Uanivi, L Wynne, A Price, R Clegg, S Lamont.

Referee: Ian Davies (WRU). Last three seasons: (2013-14): Connacht 12 Glasgow 19; Glasgow 8 Connacht 6. (2014-15) Glasgow 39 Connacht 21; Connacht 13 Glasgow 31; (2015-16) Glasgow 33 Connacht 32; Connacht 14 Glasgow 7; (s/f) Connacht 16 Glasgow 11.

Forecast: Connacht to win.

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