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Connacht left frustrated by EPCR registration issue before play-off

The western province had planned to start Eoin Griffin at outside centre.

CONNACHT HAVE BEEN left frustrated by EPCR regulations after their plans to start Eoin Griffin at outside centre for their Champions Cup qualification play-off against Northampton Saints tomorrow were scuppered.

The western province have been dealing with something of a midfield and backline crisis heading onto the Champions Cup qualification play-off, with Bundee Aki suspended and the likes of Tom Farrell, Peter Robb, Stacey Ili and Marnitz Boshoff out injured.

Aaron Shingler and Eoin Griffin Connacht had planned for tomorrow's game with Griffin at 13. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Connacht had planned to start Griffin in the 13 shirt and trained with him in that role this week, only to list him in the team they formally submitted today and learn from the EPCR that he is not eligible to play.

The public announcement of the Connacht team was delayed by almost two hours as a result, with Northampton – who announced their side at the agreed 12pm – understood to have contacted EPCR querying why Connacht’s team had not been confirmed.

It’s understood that EPCR will now assess the situation to ascertain whether there was any breach of the European competition’s participation agreement due to the late naming of the Connacht 23.

Griffin was originally part of Connacht’s Champions Cup squad earlier this season but was de-registered before round four of the pool stages in December while out injured.

Connacht were knocked out of the Champions Cup at the conclusion of the pool stages in January and their frustration centres around the fact that they have not had an opportunity to register additional players at any stage since.

All clubs in the Champions Cup name initial squads of 41 at the start of the season, and can then register up to three additional players during the pool stages, each to replace a previously-registered player. One of the three additional players must be a front row.

Clubs involved in the knock-out stages of the Champions Cup are then able to register up to three further players [one front row among them], but no such scope for registering further additional players is available to the teams involved in the qualification play-offs.

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Northampton’s Dylan Hartley Connacht face Dylan Hartley and Northampton tomorrow. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Connacht, therefore, were not entitled to register any additional players between January and this qualification play-off in May.

EPCR have pointed out that the situation is the same for Northampton, who were also knocked out in the pool stages of the Champions Cup and have not been able to register any additional players since January.

The regulations and their backline injury crisis mean Connacht have had to re-jig their team and name wing Danie Poolman to start at outside centre, where he has relatively limited experience and last started over two years ago.

Connacht have also had to call Caolin Blade – their only remaining fit and registered back – into their match day 23 to face Northampton at a late stage, leaving them with two scrum-halves on the bench in the shape of John Cooney and Blade.

The late confusion has not been ideal as Connacht face into a huge play-off semi-final clash with Premiership side Northampton at 4pm tomorrow in Franklin’s Gardens [live on TG4].

A win for Pat Lam’s side would ensure a home play-off final against the winner of the Stade Français v Cardiff Blues tie, and the westerners have insisted this week that they are intent on ending their season on a high.

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Murray Kinsella

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