Toulouse v Connacht
Heineken Champions Cup
Saturday 23rd November, Stade Ernest-Wallon @ 1pm
TV: BT Sports Referee: Karl Dickson
It’s been a good seven days for the men in the west. If there was an air of despondency after their 11-42 home defeat to Leinster, then last Sunday’s impressive 23-20 win over Montpellier certainly lifted the gloom. Further good news followed on Wednesday morning when it was confirmed that Kieran Marmion had signed on for a further three years at the Sportsground.
The lengthy injury list that saw sixteen players unavailable for their Heineken Champions Cup opener has also abated somewhat. Six of those players returned to full training this week, with a further three due back next weekend.
Connacht’s most famous win in this competition came at this Saturday’s venue in December 2013. Indeed it was Marmion who scored the crucial try in their shock 14-16 giant-killing victory. He was the only member of the current squad to have started that game. Both Denis Buckley and Eoin McKeon featured off the bench.
Guy Noves’ Toulouse side had their vengeance a week later at the Sportsground, as Pat Lam’s flu-stricken squad were well beaten by the French side 9-37. The sides met again in the pool stages of the Champions Cup in 15/16. Connacht came out on top 23-21 at the Sportsground, while Toulouse won the return fixture 19-10 at the larger venue of the Stade Municipal, home to the city’s Football team.
Last weekend’s action
Toulouse looked a much tougher prospect than their fellow French side Montpellier in round 1. They recovered from the concession of two early tries away to Gloucester to come from 14-3 down after the opening quarter to win 20-25. Toulouse showed all their experience of playing away in Europe. They never panicked and began to claw back the deficit three points at a time.
There are certainly plenty of surprises in the side Andy Friend has chosen for tomorrow’s game. 22-year-old Conor Fitzgerald starts his first Champions Cup game, after coming off the bench to kick the winning points against Montpellier last weekend. There is no room in the squad for Bundee Aki, as i get the impression his minutes are being managed carefully for games later in the season.
Peter McCabe comes straight into the side, in place of Denis Buckley, after being signed as injury cover last week. Dave Heffernan is in for Tom McCartney at hooker. Quinn Roux has recovered from injury to join Ultan Dillane in the second row. Eoghan Masterson comes into the back row alongside Colby Fainga’a and Robin Copeland. Paul Boyle makes do with a spot on the bench.
Tom Farrell comes into the side to partner Tom Daly at centre as Kyle Godwin and John Porch continue on the wings. Darragh Leader picked up a calf injury in last weeks win over Montpellier. With Tiernan O’Halloran also on the treatment table, Matt Healy covers at full-back. The only other time I can recall Healy playing there was in a Challenge Cup quarter-final away to Grenoble in April 2016. He put in a man of the match performance on that occasion.