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Dublin: 11°C Thursday 22 April 2021

Connacht have no reason to fear much-changed Leicester at Welford Road

The Tigers have left out a raft of first-team players for tonight’s game.

Connacht out-half Jack Carty.
Connacht out-half Jack Carty.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

A QUICK GLANCE at the Leicester Tigers team named to play Connacht today [KO 8pm, BT Sport] tells you everything you need to know about their approach to this game.

Leicester do not see themselves as a Challenge Cup side. This will be only their 10th ever outing in the competition. Connacht, on the other hand, have played 126 games in European Rugby’s second-tier tournament.

At the moment, this is Connacht’s level, and a win today would harden their belief that they can finally come out on top in a competition they have been so synonymous with down the years.

It is a difficult ask, but one that is certainly within their capabilities. They travel to Welford Road without a number of key players – Bundee Aki and Jarrad Butler are suspended, Quinn Roux among the many injured – but Tigers have left theirs out by choice.  

In total there are 12 changes from the side which beat Newcastle last Sunday. There is no George Ford, no Ellis Genge, no Dan Cole, no Tom Youngs or Hanro Liebenberg, with Leicester more concerned about their middling Premiership form. A record of played 15, lost seven means pressure is already on to make the play-offs.
Outside captain Ben Youngs (254 caps), the Tigers backline has a combined total of just 83 appearances for the club.
Connacht on the other hand go with a more familiar looking team. Paul Boyle captains the side behind an experienced front five. Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty link up in the half-backs, Tom Daly and Sean O’Brien start a third consecutive game together at centre, while Matt Healy, Alex Wootton – the Pro14′s joint top-try scorer this season – and John Porch combine in the back three.
This competition means much more to Connacht, who arrive into today’s fixture on the back of a busy week behind the scenes.

Just days after attack coach Nigel Carolan announced his exit, forwards coach Jimmy Duffy followed suit. One day later Connacht announced their new-look coaching team with included three new appointments, with more to follow.

Good or bad, that is a lot of change to take place in the blink of an eye, and it naturally raises the question of where exactly Connacht are in their development under head coach Andy Friend.

It’s been another frustrating season for the province in their seemingly never-ending search for some consistency.

On paper, a second place finish in the Pro14 sounds like a decent campaign, but the truth is that few leagues would allow for a team that loses exactly half of their 16 fixtures to finish so high up the table. The 19 point gap between Connacht and Munster is a far more realistic indication of where Friend’s team stand.

Their record on English soil also stinks. Connacht have only won twice in 19 trips to England in the Challenge Cup, and are without a win in their last seven visits. Friend has spoken about the desire to break ‘hoodoos’ today, but the past shouldn’t be playing on their minds. Connacht and Leicester have never met in Europe, and their famous Welford Road stadium isn’t quite so daunting without a raucous crowd packed inside. 

On their day, Connacht are capable of playing great rugby. The manner of their win against a strong Leinster team in January – as well as the battling defeat to Racing in Paris – are testament to that.

Too often, however, the pieces do not come together and work in sync. Connacht have a knack of scoring plenty of tries, only to somehow invite the opposition back into the game and leak scores at the other end. Alternatively, we have seen them defend resolutely while also offering nothing in attack. 

Strike the right balance at Welford Road, and they will be a hard team to beat.

Leicester: Zack Henry; Harry Potter, Matias Moroni, Matt Scott, Guy Porter; Johnny McPhillips, Ben Youngs (captain); Luan de Bruin, Charlie Clare, Joe Heyes; Cameron Henderson, Tomas Lavanini; George Martin, Luke Wallace, Jasper Wiese.

Replacements: Nic Dolly, James Whitcombe, Will Hurd, Harry Wells, Tommy Reffell, Ben White, Dan Kelly, Freddie Steward. 

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Connacht: John Porch; Alex Wootton, Sean O’Brien, Tom Daly, Matt Healy; Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, David Heffernan, Finlay Bealham; Ultan Dillane, Gavin Thornbury; Eoghan Masterson, Conor Oliver, Paul Boyle (captain).

Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Jordan Duggan, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Oisin Dowling, Abraham Papali’i, Caolin Blade, Conor Fitzgerald, Peter Sullivan.

Referee: Adam Jones (Wales)

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

Murray Kinsella, Bernard Jackman and Gavan Casey look back on the Pro14 final and ahead to the provinces’ European knockout games.


About the author:

Ciarán Kennedy

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