THE worry is that come late Friday evening the sub-editors in the sports departments of national newspapers will be scrambling to dust down a variation of the headline ‘Lams to the slaughter’ to use in the following day’s editions.
In Pat Lam’s inaugural Heineken Cup game as coach, the genuine fear is that Connacht could be smashed to smithereens tonight Friday night (8pm) at the Sportsground by heavyweights Saracens, who are flying high in the English Premiership.
Saracens are top of the league with a 100% win record so far this season having accounted for Harlequins, London Wasps, Bath, London Irish and Gloucester.
They’ve averaged three tries per game so far this season, are high on confidence, and are not only favourites to advance from pool three, which includes Toulouse and Zebre, but are genuine contenders to win the Heineken Cup outright.
Connacht, on the other hand, are in freefall since the win over Zebre in the first outing of the season, and have lost the next four on the trot, including last week’s disappointment against Benetton Treviso in Italy, as well as Cardiff, Ulster and Ospreys.
Last weekend’s 23-3 display from a Connacht perspective was notable mostly for errors, indecision and ill discipline, and a repeat performance of that nature here against the English raiders will undoubtedly result in the expected try-bonus win for the visitors.
Saracens, living up to their ‘genuine contenders’ tag, have sent over a strong squad, and named as strong a starting line-up as possible, that includes Lion Owen Farrell returning at out-half, Charlie Hodgson reverting to his favoured full-back and England internationals Chris Ashton and David Strettle on the wings. They’ve also made six changes to their starting pack, recalling the big guns after resting them last week.
Connacht has also named a strong side that shows six changes in all. Lock Michael Swift returns from injury and captains the side, taking back the captains’ armband from Craig Clarke. Aly Muldowney drops to the bench. John Muldoon is named in place of Andrew Browne while prop Brett Wilkinson slots in for the injured Ronan Loughney (concussion).
The back-line has a potent and balanced look to it. Robbie Henshaw returns from Ireland camp and slots in at 13, alongside Samoan international centre James or ‘seamus’ So’oialo, who is making his Connacht debut having finally secured a work permit.
Out-half Dan Parks renews his partnership with Kieran Marmion who gets the nod at scrum half ahead of Paul O’Donoghue. Tiernan O’Halloran also loses out and is named on the bench.
Connacht Academy and former Ireland U20s prop Peter Reilly is among the substitutes and could make his senior debut. Centre Eoin Griffin, pulled up in the warm up at Stadio Monigo last Friday, was replaced ten minutes before kick off by Brian Murphy. The 23-year-old Griffin is awaiting the results of a scan on a torn foot ligament but is likely to be side-lined for five weeks. Nathan White (calf) also didn’t recover in time, while the game has come too soon for Dave McSharry who is one the mend.
For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.
Bundee Aki to miss European play-off
Connacht centre Bundee Aki received a three match ban for misconduct this week which means he will miss Connacht’s final two league games and the European play-off game most probably against a French side.
Aki faced a Disciplinary Panel via video link after a Misconduct Complaint was made against him by the Disciplinary Officer of PRO12 Rugby.
The complaint referred to Aki’s behaviour to and remarks directed toward, referee Ian Davies, during and immediately after the Round 20 fixture between Connacht and Leinster.
Aki admitted to the charge of misconduct and the Panel gave him a sanction of a three-match suspension.
That means he will also miss Connacht’s final home fixture against Scarlets tomorrow or in the last game of the regular season against Munster in Thomond Park next week.
The player can return to play on Monday, May 22 which means he would be available to play in a final European qualifier should Connacht win the first one.
Disaster for Wegians as home loss sees Blues relegated
GALWEGIANS’ hugely disappointing All-Ireland League campaign came to a rather ignominious end when they were soundly beaten by their visitors Naas, who in the process secured second place with this victory and earn themselves a home semi-final in the promotion play-offs.
The Blues came into this game knowing that nothing less than a win would save them from the drop, and they were also counting on UL Bohs to do them a favour against Dolphin, so the motivational stakes could not have been higher.
Wegians started nervously and looked like a side bereft of confidence, and it was the Kildare men who dominated the opening quarter, threatening the Wegians line on several occasions. However for all their dominance, the Blues defence held sway and kept their line intact.
Wegians got a boost when an intercept by centre Rory Parata on his 10m line saw him race clear into opposition territory, and his clever kick ahead just eluded winger Alan McMahon. However Parata was impeded on his run which gave a chance for a shot on goal, and out-half Morgan Codyre made no mistake from in front of the posts to give the hosts a 3-0 lead.
With the aid of a stiff cross-breeze, the visitors kept up the pressure, and they finally managed to breech the Wegians rearguard just on the half-hour mark. It looked like Wegians would initially deal with an attacking threat, but when the ball went loose, Naas hooker Warren Larkin found himself unmarked with the line at his mercy and he dived over for the game’s opening score.
Cillian Dempsey scuffed the simple conversion to leave it at 5-3, and shortly afterwards a great hit by Parata on his opposite number Fionn Carr led to a penalty opportunity. Codyre again took full advantage to restore his side’s lead by the narrowest of margins at 6-5.
Arguably the turning point of the game came right on the stroke of half-time. With Wegians prop Martin Fox in the sin-bin, the ever-threatening Carr went on a sortee down the right flank. The ex-Connacht man easily brushed off three attempted tackles before feeding his winger Ben O’Connor who sauntered over unopposed for the simplest of scores. This time Dempsey converted to give his side a 12-6 lead at the break.
Wegians came out of the traps immediately on the restart, and when they were restored to 15 men and with the slight wind advantage at their backs, there were flickers of hope that they could regain their lead. They desperately needed the next score to keep themselves in contention, however the visitors dealt comfortably with the attacking threat and they soon took a stranglehold on the game, working their way back upfield.
For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.
Cian Kelleher debuts at full back in Connacht’s season-opener
New signing Cian Kelleher will make his competitive debut lining out at fullback for Connacht against Galsgow tomorrow (5.15pm). The 22-year-old is named in a back three with Niyi Adeolokun and Irish international Matt Healy.
Eoin Griffin has been handed the number 13 shirt for his return to the Sportsground after two seasons with London Irish. The 25-year-old from Galway will partner last season’s PRO12 Players’ Player Bundee Aki in midfield.
In the pack, Denis Buckley makes a welcome return to the front row after his lengthy lay off recovering from an ankle injury. Internationals Finlay Bealham and Ultan Dillane are also named and Nepia Fox-Matamua returns to start in the back row with Eoin McKeon and captain John Muldoon.
From the bench, Lewis Stevenson is in line to make his full Connacht debut and Kieran Marmion comes in as the replacement scrum half.
Commenting on the team selection and the upcoming game, head coach Pat Lam said:
“What an exciting game to kick off a new season at home where we have two teams who really like to express themselves. Games against Glasgow are always tough and uncompromising and with their impressive selection of international players, we expect that to be no different tomorrow.
“It’s a new season and a somewhat new-look side with just eight who started at Murrayfield in May lining out tomorrow. Today is the last time all 12 teams will be level on points. With five points on offer now our focus is on the process which will give us the best chance of winning.
“Starting the championship at home is a huge boost and we’re looking forward to experiencing the magical atmosphere here at the Sportsground once again come 5:15.”
Connacht team to face Glasgow Warriors, Saturday 3rd September, the Sportsground, 5:15pm
15 Cian Kelleher
14 Niyi Adeolokun
13 Eoin Griffin
12 Bundee Aki
11 Matt Healy
10 Jack Carty
9 Caolin Blade
1 Denis Buckley
2 Tom McCartney
3 Finlay Bealham
4 Ultan Dillane
5 Danny Qualter
6 Eoin McKeon
7 Nepia Fox-Matamua
8 John Muldoon (captain)
16 Dave Heffernan
17 Ronan Loughney
18 JP Cooney
19 Lewis Stevenson
20 James Connolly
21 Kieran Marmion
22 Shane O’Leary
23 Peter Robb
For a full preview of the match and Connacht’s season see this week’s 24 page souvenir supplement free with the Tribune