Connacht are the underdogs — when aren’t they? — against the No 1 seeds and English Premiership favourites. Although David Humphrey’s Gloucester are having an erratic season and will not qualify via this route for Champions Cup rugby, they are more than a match for most clubs on their day. They are also pinning their hopes on claiming European silverware as their route to the Champions Cup play-offs against the seventh-seeded Pro 12 side later in the season.
The Pro 12 has always been Connacht’s priority this season, but having qualified for this stage of the competition, Pat Lam’s squad will not want to squander the opportunity of advancing to the next stage.
“Playing a quarter-final in any competition is massive,” Lam says. “There’s no doubt that going into the cauldron that is Kingsholm is a challenge for any team. Top seeds Gloucester are a side with quality internationals and a lot of experience. But we have worked hard to get here, and with a home semi-final up for grabs, we’re looking forward to facing that challenge head on as a team.”
Given the host of injuries, Lam has named a strong side that includes key playmaker Robbie Henshaw back from his Six Nations exploits, in addition to scrum-half Kieran Marmion — two players who can cause any team problems. Tiernan O’Halloran, try scorer against Gloucester three seasons ago, moves from fullback to the wing, with Mils Muliaina wearing the No 15 jersey again. The club’s top line-breaker Matt Healy is named on the left wing, with Danie Poolman continuing at outside centre.
In the pack Lam has also made two changes. South African Quinn Roux joins player of the month Aly Muldowney in the second row, while Andrew Browne takes over on the blindside.
As a result captain John Muldoon moves to the back row, and second-year Academy player Eoghan Masterson continues at openside in the absence of both Jake Heenan and Wille Faloon.
S McColl, C Sharples, B Meakes, B Twelvetrees (c), J May; J Hook, G Laidlaw; D Murphy, R Hibbard, J Afoa, T Savage, T Palmer, S Kalafamoni, 7M Kvesic, G Evans. Replacements, D Dawiduik, N Wood, S Puafisi, J Hudson, R Moriarty, D Robson, B Burns, H Purdy.
M Muliaina, T O’Halloran, D Poolman, R Henshaw, M Healy, J Carty, K Marmion, D Buckle, T McCartney, R Ah You, Q Roux, A Muldowney, A Browne, E Masterson, J Muldoon ©. Replacements, S Delahunt, JP Cooney, F Bealham, M Kearney, J Connolly, I Porter, C Ronaldson, D Leader.