CONNACHT have gone from underdogs to favourites in just six days to record back-to-back wins over Worcester in tonight's Amlin Challenge Cup fixture at the Galway Sportsground (7pm).
Last weekend’s 26-21 win at Sixways consolidated Connacht’s position at the top of Pool Two, and coach Michael Bradley insists his side must not become complacent.
Connacht have notched wins away from home to both Montpellier and the English premiership side – the first since 1997 – but now they need to ensure there is no slip-up at home.
“The lads were delighted with the win in Worcester, but they know today’s match is the second part of the exercise. It’s a massive opportunity for us, and I certainly don’t want be talking after the game about an opportunity missed.”
Although Worcester’s Mike Ruddock admitted his side’s European campaign was all but over, having presented Connacht with “a big Christmas present, gift-wrapped as well”, Worcester arrive seeking revenge.
Bradley has named an unchanged side preferring to maintain continuity in selection to build on their away leg, while Ruddock has made a host of changes in the hopes his “younger players will take the opportunity” given to them.
Connacht’s changes are on the bench where hooker Adrian Flavin returns for Dermot Murphy, while scrum-half Kieran Campbell comes in for the injured Conor O’Loughlin.
“We have won three from three,” says Bradley, “but we still have three games to play so we cannot afford to take our eye off the ball.”
Last weekend it took Connacht 20 minutes before they dealt comfortably with Worcester’s kicking game and matched them up front, and Bradley says this is a concern for today’s match.
“I think it was 20 minutes before we won a ruck and that is a worry for us. We are very much aware of their physicality at the breakdown.”
Ruddock believes it “best to take players who have not faced Connacht or have never lost to Connacht”, and as a result he has made 10 changes in the starting line-up.
Ruddock has two Scottish internationals in the centre, Alex Grove and Calum MacRae, with former All Black Rico Gear, who pulled out late last week, back on the left wing with England Sevens Marcel Garvey on the right. Chris Pennell moves to full-back for Chris Latham after impressing last weekend, while former Ospreys out-half Matthew Jones makes his first start of the season.
CONNACHT: G Duffy; L Bibo, N Ta’auso, A Wynne, F Carr; I Keatley, F Murphy; B Wilkinson, S Cronin, R Morris; M McCarthy, B Upton; J Muldoon (capt), R Ofisa, G Naoupu.
Replacements: A Flavin, R Loughney, J Hagan, M Swift, M McComish, K Campbell, M Nikora, T Nathan.
WORCESTER WARRIORS: C Pennell, M Garvey, A Grove, C MacRae, R Gear, M Jones, J Arr, A Black, C Fortey, O Sourgens, G Kitchener, W Bowley, J Collins, J Abbnott, M Cox.
Replacements: J Gilding, J Page, T Taumoepeau, D Lyons, T Wood, O Forst, G King, D Rasmussen.
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