Connacht go once more to the Stoop, but this time with something concrete to fight for.
Starting XV: 15 Robbie Henshaw, 14 Tiernan O'Halloran, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Dave McSharry, 11 Fetu’u Vainikolo, 10 Matthew Jarvis, 9 Kieran Marmion
1 Denis Buckley, 2 Jason Harris-Wright, 3 Nathan White (C), 4 Michael Swift, 5 Mike McCarthy, 6 Andrew Browne, 7 Johnny O'Connor, 8 Eoin McKeown
Replacements: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 17 Brett Wilkinson, 18 Ronan Loughney, 19 Mick Kearney, 20 Eoghan Grace, 21 Paul O’Donohoe, 22 Miah Nikora, 23 James Loxton
Starting XV: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Tom Williams, 13 Matt Hopper, 12 Tom Casson, 11 Ugo Monye, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Care
1 Joe Marler, 2 Joe Gray, 3 James Johnston, 4 Ollie Kohn, 5 George Robson, 6 Maurie Fa'asavalu, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 8 Nick Easter
Replacements: 16 Rob Buchanan, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Will Collier, 19 Charlie Matthews, 20 Tom Guest, 21 Karl Dickson, 22 Ben Botica, 23 George Lowe
Connacht once again head to the Stoop in that rugby heartland of Twikenham to confront the Jesters of southern English rugby. They do so in the middle of what has turned out to be a season that has frustrated Connacht fans through the manner in which their team has delivered performances without gaining the reward, or not delivered the performance when the reward was there for the taking. Too many matches have seen Connacht retain long periods of possession and fail to convert it to points. But that that changed?
For those of you who were unfortunate enough to miss the match against Dragons, there seemed to a much better attitude from the team as a whole. Each player had it in their minds that they could and should attack the Dragons defensive line. From 1 to 15 they probed at every opportunity, forcing the Dragons to guess at where the next attack would come from and which player would be carrying. In this way systemic flaws were uncovered in the Dragons line, and breaks resulted. The game plan tomorrow must be to build on that mindset and not allow Quins to settle into a defense that can simply shepherd the ball across the line.
However there have been some changes to the Connacht starting XV from last weekend. George Naoupu picked up an injury in the match and so Johnny O'Connor is moving into the openside and McKeown is shifting to Number 8. The more worrying switch however comes at out-half, where Matthew Jarvis will start instead of injured Dan Parks. Parks, who played very well against the Dragons, may have been the extra experienced head that Connacht may have needed to push on from the same match last year and get the win, and Jarvis's lack of game time is not ideal. Jarvis and Marmion are up against a very experienced pair in Care and Evans, and no doubt the Quins half-backs will look to rattle their young competitors. Jarvis is a running out-half though with a lovely pass, and his size is an asset if he can put it good use, so let's hope that he can show some game control in such an important game.
Up against the Quins back three are the Connacht regulars, with Tiernan returning to the starting XV after an injury to Danie Poolman. Hopefully Tiernan can use the increased competition to push himself on, as he will need a very big game against Ugo Monye, and the dangerous Mike Brown. Of course it goes without saying that our most potent attacker, Fets, must be given space to work with, and that should come if they employ the same all action process that was used a week ago.
Connacht will qualify for the Amlin Challenge Cup if they win this match and the one against Zebre, and there is even an outside chance of qualification for the Quarter-Finals of the HEC itself. That is not a pipeline hope, it is concrete and tangible. Come on Connacht!
Good luck to all the fans traveling over. Check out the travel thread on the forum if you are heading over.