CONNACHT ENSURED THAT the four Irish provinces all won for the second gameweek of the Heineken Cup. They beat a Toulouse team that were being back at 100-1 On to sweep Pat Lam’s men aside.
Connacht’s 16-14 win at the Stade Ernest Wallon was the best ever in their 128 year history. Another famous win tomorrow could set them on course for the Heineken Cup quarter finals.
Here are the three key battles they must win to get there:
Dan Parks v Lionel Beauxis
The Scottish international was signed by Connacht exactly for occasions like last weekend’s nerve-jangler. Parks marshalled his backline expertly and landed some crucial kicks — including a drop goal — as the western province went 16-7 in front. He will be primed for another huge European night and his tactical kicking will be needed.
Beauxis lacks the flair of the injured New Zealand out-half Luke McAlister but gets the nod over Jean-Pascal Barraque, who Guy Noves’ has axed completely. 15 French caps in six years tells you that Beauxis is good but no world-beater. If they Connacht pack perform as well as they did in France last time out, their loosies can get to him.
Brett Wilkinson v Census Johnston
Chiliboy Ralepelle is tackled by Wilkinson. INPHO/Billy Stickland
The forgotten man on the Irish front-row scene, Wilkinson reminded Joe Schmidt he was still about when fronting up magnificently against Samoa’s Johnston at the weekend. The South African, who toured New Zealand with Ireland in 2012, was part of a determined Connacht front row that disrupted Toulouse all afternoon and denied them a reliable attacking platform.
The big question is: does Wilkinson have another big performance in him?
Jake Heenan v Thierry Dusautoir
Toulouse thrive in broken field play and rely on their flankers to secure them quick, clean ball on their upfield excursions. Heenan and John Muldoon were key figures in getting the French side boggged down, particularly in the first half. The New Zealand flanker and his Galwegian teammate combined for a staggering 35 tackles. Heenan was still going at the death to secure the final turnover of the game while providing a ball-carrying threat that gave his team breathing room.
Heenan has 11 years on Dusautoir but the Ivory Coast-born flanker has build his career on clocking in epic performances to inspire club and country. He will need to uncork his 2011 World Cup vintage to outfox the young pretender.
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