CONNACHT v HARLEQUINS
When? Tonight 8.0
The story so far: 14 games – a bakers dozen and one for bad luck. That’s how long it has been since Connacht enjoyed a win. Harlequins and Conor O’Shea travel west with a a bonus point win and a quarter final on their minds.
O’Shea will leave the Premiership side under no illusion that they will be put to the pin of their collar at times in Galway, but they would hardly be the first to be turned over by the western province on a cold, wet and windy evening by the Atlantic. Connacht’s last win may have been back in September, but it was at the Sportsground, and it was on a Friday night.
Team news: New Irish Wolfhound prop Ronan Loughney’s inclusion is the only change made by Connacht boss Eric Elwood. Loughney’s promotion comes at the expense of tight-head Dylan Rogers who drops to the bench. Loughney can also play loose head so Rogers could well join him in the front row at some point in the match.
Harlequins too, have had to make only one change from the side which beat Gloucester. Sam Smith comes in on the wing replacing Tom Williams, who is allowed paternal leave.
CONNACHT RUGBY: G Duffy (capt); F Vainikolo, K Tonetti, D McSharry, T O’Halloran; N O’Connor, P O’Donohoe; B Wilkinson, A Flavin, R Loughney, M Swift, M McCarthy, J Muldoon, R Ofisa, G Naoupu. Replacements: E Reynecke, D Buckley, D Rogers, M Kearney, E McKeon, D Moore, M Nikora, H Fa’afili.
HARLEQUINS: M Brown; U Monye, M Hopper, J Turner-Hall, S Smith; N Evans, D Care; J Marler, C Brooker, J Johnston, T Vallejos, G Robson, M Faasavalu, C Robshaw (capt), N Easter. Replacements: J Gray, M Lambert, T Fairbrother, O Kohn, L Wallace, R Bolt, R Clegg, T Casson.
LEINSTER v MONTPELIER
When: Saturday 1.30
The story so far: The closest Leinster have come to defeat in Europe this season was in Montpelier on day one of the competition. A nerveless last-ditch Jonathan Sexton penalty gave the defending champions a draw that day and they have won all four games since to qualify for the quarter finals a week early. Montpelier, meanwhile, are out to avoid the pool 3 wooden spoon.
Team news: With the champions’ quarter final stature only being a matter of seeding and venue; Joe Schmidt has rang six changes from the side who scraped past Glasgow in round five. Eoin O’Malley is included in place of David Kearney, Isaac Boss has been awarded for scoring last week’s crucial try and, despite being marked a ‘serious doubt’ by the province yesterday, Sexton will be Boss’ half back partner from the start.
There are returns for Richardt Strauss, Damian Browne and Rhys Ruddock while tight head prop Jamie Hagan will make his competition début. As a result, Mike Ross will be on the bench taking a small, but well-deserved, rest before the Six Nations. Leo Cullen will captain the side despite the prospect of double ankle surgery.
Though facing an uphill struggle, Fabien Galthie has named his big guns: the back-row behemoths, Fulgence Ouedrago and Mamuka Gorgodze; and fly-half, Francois Trinh-Duc.
Leinster: R Kearney,F McFadden, E O’Malley, G D’Arcy, I Nacewa; J Sexton, I Boss: C Healy, R Strauss, J Hagan, L Cullen (capt), D Browne, R Ruddock, S O’Brien, J Heaslip. Replacements: S Cronin, H Van Der Merwe, M Ross, D Toner, S Jennings, E Reddan, I Madigan, F Carr.
Montpelier: L Amorosino, T Nagusa, Y Audrin, P Bosch, M Bustos Mayana; F Trinh-Duc, J Tomas; N Leleimalefaga, A Creevy, G Jgenti; D Hancke, M De Marco; F Ouedrago, M Gorgodze, A Tulou. Replacements: E Van Muuren, J Figallo, M Bustos, J Tuino, V Bost, B Paillaugue, S Fernandez, G Doumayrou.
CLERMONT AUVERGNE v ULSTER
When: Saturday 3.40
The story so far: Stephen Ferris has called this the biggest game of his Ulster career. He was not involved in last year’s quarter final defeat to Northampton and he is looking to put that to rights. The red hand sits on the top of pool 4, three points ahead of Clermont, who they narrowly beat at Ravenhill in round one. So quarter final progress will all rest on this game.
Team News: David Humphreys and Brian McLaughlin have made just one enforced change to the side which dismantled Leicester a week ago. Darren Cave suffered a ligament injury in that game and he will be replaced at outside centre by Ian Whitten. Ulster have never won in 14 attempts on French soil and they face a side which has not lost at the Stade Marcel-Michelin for 38 games. Brimming with confidence, Clermont make 10 changes from the 81-0 slaughtering of Aironi, including recalls for Julien Bonnaire and David Skrela.
Ulster: S Terblanche; A Trimble, I Whitten, P Wallace, C Gilroy; I Humphreys, R Pienaar; T Court, R Best, J Afoa, J Muller (capt), D Tuohy, S Ferris, C Henry, P Wannenburg; Replacements: A Kyriacou, C Black, A Macklin, L Stevenson, W Faloon, P Marshall, N Spence, A D’Arcy.
Clermont Auvergne: L Byrne, S Sivivatu, A Rougerie, W Fofana, J Malzieu, D Skrela, M Parra, L Faure, B Kayser, C Ric, J Pierre, N Hines, G Vosloo, J Bardy, J Bonnaire, Replacements:T Paulo, V Debaty, D Kotze, J Cudmore, A Lapandry, K Senio, B James, R King,
NORTHAMPTON v MUNSTER
When: Saturday, 6.0
The story so far: Northampton have labelled this a grudge match of sorts after Ronan O’Gara’s late, great drop goal snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in round one. Luckily enough, Munster have no great love for Northampton either. However, the plot has thickened after one of the chief antagonists in the rivalry (Chris Ashton, like you needed to be told) has talked his way into a move away from the Heineken Cup silver medallists. Munster, already qualified with five wins from five, are playing for top seeding; Northampton are hoping for a place in the Amlin Challenge Cup.
Team news: A day after confirming he would move to Saracens, Ashton has been left out of the Saints weekend squad by Jim Mallinder. Mallinder is also without Tom Wood due to a toe injury but has included James Downey and Roger Wilson, both overlooked in Declan Kidney’s, 52 man, Six Nations training squads.
Munster, like Ulster, make just one enforced change from the win over Castres. Niall Ronan has been ruled out for the rest of the season so the back row will be reshuffled to allow Donncha O’Callaghan enter the starting line up. Conor Murray will continue to strengthen his claim on being first choice for Munster and Ireland, he will hope to feed O’Gara one of those trademark last minute drop goals.
Northampton: B Foden, J Elliott, G Pisi, J Downey, V Artemyev, R Lamb, L Dickson, S Tonga’uiha, D Hartley, B Mujati, S Manoa, M Sorenson, C Clark, P Dowson, R Wilson. Replacements: B Sharman, A Waller, P Doran-Jones, C Day, B Nutley, M Roberts, S Myler, S Armstrong,
Munster: D Hurley; J Murphy, K Earls, L Mafi, S Zebo; R O’Gara, C Murray; W du Preez, D Varley, BJ Botha; Donncha O’Callaghan, P O’Connell capt; D Ryan, P O’Mahony, J Coughlan. Replacements: D Fogarty, M Horan, S Archer, M O’Driscoll, Dave O’Callaghan, T O’Leary, I Keatley, D Barnes.