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Connacht facing tough French exam against Stade in Paris today

Despite having already qualified for the knock-outs, Andy Friend’s side want to finish the group stages with a bang rather than a whimper.

Connacht celebrate last month's win over Stade.
Connacht celebrate last month's win over Stade.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

THERE IS NO Bundee Aki on the plane to Paris today. No Ultan Dillane either. Kieran Marmion – another one of Connacht’s poster boys – is also unavailable for their trip but the absentees who will hurt the most are Finlay Bealham, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Matthew Burke and Jack Aungier.

There is no team in the world who would easily cope with the loss of five props – veteran Denis Buckley has also been out injured all season – but in this case, it looks like their collective absence could be particularly painful. Two academy props – Sam Illo and Charlie Ward – are on their bench. They’re about to grow up fast.

With Stade Francais (kick-off 2pm, BT Sport), you get a bit of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Away from home, especially in Europe, they’re average. Certainly Connacht made them look that way at the Sportsground last month, scoring six tries en route to a 36-9 win.

But part of the reason that Stade were second rate in Galway was because that was by and large their second team. This time it’s different. This time they have Ngani Laumape, Clement Casets and the brilliant Sekou Macalou.

stade-francais-players-dejected It will be a different Stade Francais Connacht face today. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

They also have a formidable home record and the small matter of place in the round of 16 to play for, where a bonus point win coupled with the Munster-Wasps result going their way could see them sneak into the next round. Connacht, of course, are already there, yet they still have an agenda to stick to.

“It is a really important game for us because in Europe we are one from three,” said their head coach, Andy Friend. “All we know is that when we run out in Stade on Sunday, we need to play our best brand of rugby. If we do that and produce a really good performance, I truly believe we can win and that is all we are focused on.”

We saw the best of them for 50 minutes last week. A sloppy final quarter contrived to see them lose by a point to the Premiership leaders, when set-piece inefficiency, inaccurate kicking game and lack of trust in their passing strategy allowed Leicester overcome an 18-point deficit to win.

Providing they learn from those errors, and providing their scrum holds up at least on their own ball, they should actually benefit from playing on the Stade Jean-Bouin’s 4G surface.

In total, they have scored 39 tries from their 11 games this season, and the presence of Mack Hansen – their leading try scorer this season – and Alex Wootton, who topped their try charts last year, will help.

“The thing you know about Stade is there’s a lot of good rugby players there so they have individual X factor that on any given day they can be special,” said Friend.

“To date they haven’t got a win in Europe, can still qualify in their minds if they pick up five points so they’re still playing for themselves as well. We’re under no illusions that they’re a very good side.”

But so are Connacht. Their test is to be good for 80 – rather than 50 – minutes.

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15. Kylan Hamdaoui 14. Telusa Veainu 13. Ngani Laumape 12. Leo Barre 11. Adrien Lapegue 10. Nicolas Sanchez 9. William Percillier 1. Clement Castets 2. Tolu Latu 3. Paul Alo Emile 4. Mathieu De Giovanni 5. Paul Gabrillagues 6. Charlie Francoz 7. Sekou Macalou 8. Tala Gray

Replacements:

16. Lucas Da Silva 17. Moses Alo Emile 18. Nemo Roelofse 19. JJ Van der Mescht 20. Marcos Kremer 21. James Hall 22. Joris Segonds 23. Paul Champ

CONNACHT 15. Tiernan O’Halloran 14. Alex Wootton 13. Tom Farrell 12. Sammy Arnold 11. Mack Hansen 10. Jack Carty (c) 9. Caolin Blade 1. Jordan Duggan 2. Shane Delahunt 3. Greg McGrath 4. Oisín Dowling 5. Niall Murray 6. Cian Prendergast 7. Conor Oliver 8. Jarrad Butler

Replacements: 16. Dave Heffernan 17. Charlie Ward 18. Sam Illo 19. Leva Fifita 20. Paul Boyle 21. Colm Reilly 22. Conor Fitzgerald 23. Diarmuid Kilgallen

Referee: Wayne Barnes

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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