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Lam makes two changes as Connacht look for Champions Cup qualification
Kieran Marmion has been ruled out for four weeks, meaning John Cooney starts the visit to Gloucester.

CONNACHT COACH PAT Lam has made two changes to his team for Sunday’s Champions Cup play-off meeting with Gloucester in Kingsholm [KO 15.30].

With scrum-half Kieran Marmion ruled out due to an ankle injury, the in-form John Cooney comes into the side in the nine shirt, while the experienced George Naoupu has been included in the second row.

John Cooney on his way to scoring a try Matteo Ciambelli / INPHO John Cooney has been in brilliant form for Connacht. Matteo Ciambelli / INPHO / INPHO

Naoupu replaces Andrew Browne in the locking department, the latter dropping onto the bench for Connacht’s knock-out clash with David Humphreys’ Gloucester. Also on the westerners’ bench is 22-year-old academy forward James Connolly.

Connacht have confirmed that Marmion’s season is over even if Connacht advance to next weekend’s second stage of the Champions Cup play-offs, as a medial ligament tear in his left ankle means he will be out of action for up to four weeks.

Should Lam’s side manage to beat Gloucester on Sunday, they would move on to a home tie against the seventh-placed Top 14 finisher a week later, that team set to be one of Racing Métro, Oyonnax, Bordeaux or Montpellier.

Having missed out on the top six in the Guinness Pro12, Connacht are staring at their final opportunity to secure Champions Cup rugby over the next fortnight. Lose to Gloucester this weekend and the dream is over.

“We’re going up against a quality Gloucester side stacked with international players and their top XV coming off the back of a week’s rest,” said Lam. “There’s no doubt they have the advantage playing in their home ground so we know we will have to be at our very best as a team.

Pat Lam James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“Our season goal was to finish in the top 6 so we could qualify automatically for Champions Cup rugby next season. While seventh is a record finish for Connacht rugby in the PRO12, we still have this opportunity to secure that final place so there’s huge motivation.

“Win this weekend against Gloucester and we’ll be at home the following Sunday in front of our home crowd. Connacht has never been in this position before. It’s knock out rugby; we may be battered and bruised but we’re massively excited by it.”

Gloucester have indeed restored their XV to full strength, with just three of the players who started last weekend’s clash with Bath retaining their places.

Connacht

15. Tiernan O’Halloran
14. Fionn Carr
13. Robbie Henshaw
12. Bundee Aki
11. Matt Healy
10. Jack Carty
9. John Cooney

1. Denis Buckley
2. Tom McCartney
3. Rodney Ah You
4. George Naoupu
5. Aly Muldowney
6. John Muldoon (captain)
7. Eoghan Masterson
8. Eoin McKeon

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Replacements:

16. Dave Heffernan
17. JP Cooney
18. Finlay Bealham
19. Andrew Browne
20. James Connolly
21. Ian Porter
22. Miah Nikora
23. Shane O’Leary

Gloucester

15. Charlie Sharples
14. Jonny May
13. Bill Meakes
12. Billy Twelvetrees (captain)
11. Henry Purdy
10. James Hook
9. Greig Laidlaw

1. Nick Wood
2. Richard Hibbard
3. John Afoa
4. Tom Savage
5. Tom Palmer
6. Jacob Rowan
7. Dan Thomas
8. Ross Moriarty

Replacements:

16. Darren Dawidiuk
17. Yann Thomas
18. Shaun Knight
19. Elliot Stooke
20. Lewis Ludlow
21. Dan Robson
22. Billy Burns
23. Rob Cook

Referee: Romain Poite [FFR].

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