In-form Glasgow can overcome difficult Connacht challenge
Holders look marginally the more irresistible force at the moment
Connacht coach Pat Lam: “Going into play-off rugby, we couldn’t ask for a better challenge than playing the defending champions.” Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Connacht v Glasgow, Sportsground, Saturday, 3.0pm (Live TG4)
This could be fun, as well as full-on and interesting. The table suggests they’re the best two teams in the League, and they are possibly the best coached and best to watch as well.
In any event, the Sportsground will again be packed to the rafters, thereby reaffirming how nothing quite markets a rugby brand better than a winning and entertaining team, and each side has a sizeable carrot dangling in front of them.
Despite last weekend’s events, when Connacht contrived to lose to Treviso whereas the Warriors were running up their record league win at the expense of Zebre, essentially this remains a win-or-bust shoot-out for what is both a money-spinning bonus and decidedly advantageous semi-final.
The loser will almost certainly be consigned to an away match.
Both coaches clearly had their eye on this game last week. Thus, akin to the nine changes made by Pat Lam, and despite the Warriors’ 10-try, 70-10 rout of Zebre (all converted by Duncan Weir) their leading scorer is one of nine players either demoted to the bench or in his case out of the match-day squad as part of Gregor Townsend’s rotation policy that again appears to be serving them so well.
The holders arrive having hit the top of the table for the first time this season on the back of a ninth successive win – the last four with bonus points.
The Six Nations Player of the Tournament, Stuart Hogg, is one of six backs recalled to a backline in which Alex Dunbar moves from inside to outside centre, and there is also a revamped front row and change in the second row.
“Going into play-off rugby, we couldn’t ask for a better challenge than playing the defending champions who are on fire at the moment,” said Lam.
“While we have our place in the play-offs secure, we all know what it would mean to the club and the province if we can bring a semi-final to the Sportsground for the first time.”
Only Ulster have managed to beat Connacht here this season, but Glasgow have won the sides’ last eight meetings and they look marginally the more irresistible force at the moment.
CONNACHT (v Glasgow Warriors): T O’Halloran; N Adeolokun, R Henshaw, B Aki, M Healy; AJ MacGinty, K Marmion; R Loughney, T McCartney, F Bealham; U Dillane, A Muldowney; S O’Brien, J Heenan, J Muldoon (capt). Replacements: D Heffernan, JP Cooney, R Ah You, Q Roux, E McKeon, J Cooney, S O’Leary, P Robb.
GLASGOW WARRIORS: S Hogg; T Seymour, A Dunbar, P Horne, L Jones; F Russell, A Price; G Reid, F Brown, S Puafisi; L Nakarawa, J Gray (capt); R Harley, R Wilson, J Strauss. Replacements: P MacArthur, J Yanuyanutawa, Z Fagerson, T Swinson, S Favaro, G Hart, M Bennett, S Lamont.
Referee: Ian Davies (WRU).
Formguide: Connacht – WWLWL. Glasgow – WWWWW.
Leading points scorers: Connacht – Craig Ronaldson 89, Jack Carty 71. Glasgow – Duncan Weir 108, Finn Russell 69.
Leading try scorers: Connacht – Matt Healy 9. Glasgow – Taqele Naiayravoro 6.
Forecast: Glasgow to win.