Andy Friends Connacht will have to travel to Welford Road for what looks like a fantastic match-up. Leicester Tigers have had a very average season winning and losing five games. Whereas Connacht sits second in their PRO14 conference. The winners of the match will have a home quarter-final against Ospreys or Newcastle.
Connacht has named a full-strength team from what was available but Leicester Tigers have rested 10 players from last week’s win over Newcastle Falcons.
- • Despite having played 150+ games each, Leicester Tigers and Connacht will face each other for the first time in European competition.
- • Leicester Tigers have only lost two of their nine games played in the Challenge Cup (W7) and have won all four of their home games in the competition, by an average margin of 26 points.
- • Connacht have only lost three of their last 14 games in the Challenge Cup (W10 D1) but they did lose their most recent match, an away game in England against Sale Sharks (10-20).
- • Connacht have only won two of their 19 trips to England in the Challenge Cup (D1 L16) and have won none of the last seven (D1 L6).
- • Connacht have played more games (126) in the Challenge Cup than any other side, despite that they’ve never reached the final of the competition.
- • Leicester are one of two sides (also Worcester) to have picked up three yellow cards in the Challenge Cup this season, the most in the competition.
- • Leicester have won 15/15 scrums in the Challenge Cup this season, the most of any side who is yet to lose one against the head.
- • Leicester’s tackle success rate of 90% is the best of any side in the Challenge Cup this season, they’ve made the joint most tackles (271) of any side.
- • Jack Carty (Connacht) made 39 kicks from hand in the Heineken Champions Cup this season, more than any other player.
- • Matt Healy’s (Connacht) next try in the Challenge Cup will be his 20th, only four other players have reached this milestone (Tom Varndell, Julien Arias, Richard Haughton, Topsy Ojo).
In the absence of the suspended Jarrad Butler, Paul Boyle captains the side in the number 8 jersey where he’s joined by flankers Eoghan Masterson and Conor Oliver.
There’s a wealth of experience in the tight five, with a front row of Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham, while Ultan Dillane partners the in-form Gavin Thornbury in the second row.
Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty continue their long-standing half-back partnership, while Tom Daly and Sean O’Brien start together at centre for the third straight game.
Another centurion Matt Healy is named on the wing, forming a back three combo with the exciting Alex Wootton and John Porch.
Commenting on the team selection, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
“We had difficult decisions to make across the park with our starting XV. It’s a testament to our squad that we’ve got a really strong bench while others will miss out entirely, and that’s what you want going into knock-out European rugby.
“It’s no secret that the Connacht record in Europe needs to improve, but this is a group of players that know how to break hoodoos on the road. Leicester Tigers in Welford Road is one of the great challenges in European rugby and I have full confidence in the squad to get the win and really put us in the mix for silverware at the end of the season”.
CONNACHT MATCHDAY 23 VS LEICESTER TIGERS
Saturday 3rd April, Welford Road, kick-off 8.00pm
15. John Porch (35)
14. Alex Wootton (18)
13. Sean O’Brien (Acad) (6)
12. Tom Daly (43)
11. Matt Healy (147)
10. Jack Carty (154)
9. Kieran Marmion (181)
1. Denis Buckley (196)
2. Dave Heffernan (139)
3. Finlay Bealham (154)
4. Ultan Dillane (109)
5. Gavin Thornbury (55)
6. Eoghan Masterson (106)
7. Conor Oliver (16)
8. Paul Boyle (54) (C)
16. Shane Delahunt (95)
17. Jordan Duggan (10)
18. Dominic Robertson-McCoy (62)
19. Oisin Dowling (4)
20. Abraham Papali’i (9)
21. Caolin Blade (126)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (31)
23. Peter Sullivan (11)
Full Last 16 Draw
Challenge Cup – Round of 16 draw – Dragons v Northampton Ospreys v Newcastle London Irish v Cardiff Blues Harlequins v Ulster Benetton v Agen Zebre v Bath Leicester Tigers v Connacht Montpellier v Glasgow Warriors.