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Dublin: 1°C Wednesday 12 May 2021
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Racing strong favourites but Friend wants 'the might of Connacht' to test them

The westerners are underdogs today in Paris as their Champions Cup campaign gets underway.

Connacht will need to be at their lethal best today.
Connacht will need to be at their lethal best today.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

AS IF THE task wasn’t already demanding enough for Connacht, Racing 92 were able to name star out-half Finn Russell in their starting line-up for today’s Champions Cup clash in Paris [KO 3.15pm Irish time, BT Sport].

The inventive playmaker was something of a surprise selection after the recent groin injury that kept him out of most of Scotland’s autumn campaign, but Russell returns to ensure Racing have pretty much their full complement of big-name stars.

Virimi Vakatawa, Kurtley Beale, and Teddy Thomas could do serious damage outside Russell if Racing’s big, muscular pack gets rolling. Former Ireland international Simon Zebo is limited to a bench role due to the superb form of 21-year-old left wing Donovan Taofifenua.

Connacht’s defence will need to be razor-sharp and head coach Andy Friend confirmed that they made “a slight adjustment” to their system last week against Benetton in preparation for what is to come today.

The indoor Paris La Défense Arena means that conditions will be perfect in what is a very unique environment.

“I don’t believe any of our boys have been there,” said Friend this week. “We were trying to get our game prep there on Saturday but [team manager] Tim Allnutt told me it wasn’t accessible to us.

a-view-of-la-defense-arena Racing's stadium is a unique one. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“The first time we’ll see it is when we get off the bus an hour before kick-off, so that’s fine. You walk out, have a look up, and then get your game head on. It’s just another rectangle, isn’t it?”

That is very much the gist of Friend’s approach to this game. Connacht are the 18-point underdogs and no one expects them to win but the head coach has been underlining to his players that this is just another game.

“I’m probably not apprehensive about anything,” said Friend. “We talked on our virtual meeting as a group and my question was, ‘Can we beat Racing?’ The nods around the video screen, all 50 heads or so of them were nodding their heads. That’s all we’ve got to worry about then.

“If I have one bit of apprehension it is when we get into the fight and if the fight is not going your way can we hold that belief? Because we know we’re going to get into a fight.

“There is going to be a period when we feel the might of Racing coming at us and if we can hold strong through that, and we can turn that around and adjust the momentum, and we push through and they have the might of Connacht coming at them, then it is the team that breaks quickest.”

teddy-thomas-celebrates-his-try Teddy Thomas is one of the Racing stars. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

For his part, Friend has limited returning Ireland international Bundee Aki to a bench role as the in-form Tom Daly and Sammy Arnold start in midfield, while 22-year-old Sean Masterson gets a huge start in the back row as his brother, Eoghan, continues to fill in as a second row.  

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Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty will have to be at their best as Connacht look to upset the odds in Paris.

 Racing 92:

15. Kurtley Beale
14. Teddy Thomas
13. Virimi Vakatawa
12. Henry Chavancy (captain)
11. Donovan Taofifenua
10. Finn Russell
9. Teddy Iribaren

1. Eddy Ben Arous
2. Camille Chat
3. Georges Henri Colombe
4. Bernard Le Roux
5. Dominic Bird
6. Wenceslas Lauret
7. Baptiste Chouzenoux
8. Fabien Sanconnie

Replacements:

16. Kevin Le Guen
17. Guram Gogichashvili
18. Cedate Gomes Sa
19. Donnacha Ryan
20. Ibrahim Diallo
21. Maxime Machenaud
22. Antoine Gibert
23. Simon Zebo

Connacht

15. John Porch
14. Alex Wootton
13. Sammy Arnold
12. Tom Daly
11. Matt Healy
10. Jack Carty
9. Kieran Marmion

1. Denis Buckley
2. Dave Heffernan
3. Finlay Bealham
4. Eoghan Masterson
5. Ultan Dillane
6. Sean Masterson
7. Jarrad Butler (captain)
8. Paul Boyle

Replacements:

16. Shane Delahunt
17. Jordan Duggan
18. Jack Aungier
19. Cian Prendergast
20. Conor Oliver
21. Caolin Blade
22. Bundee Aki
23. Tiernan O’Halloran

Referee: Wayne Barnes [RFU].

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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