A heavy list of injuries and poor weather will not help Connacht’s hopes of claiming a home victory over French heavyweights Biarritz this evening.
Coach Eric Elwood says his side may be a year more mature than last year when aristocrats Toulouse visited, but with some 15 players unavailable, the task has been made “extremely difficult”.
“It’s a home game and we always fancy ourselves at home, regardless who we are playing, but you have to understand it’s going to be extremely difficult,” he said.
Minus Gavin Duffy, Nathan White, Michael Swift, John Muldoon and George Naoupu, the responsibility now rests with youngsters like Eoin McKeon, Mick Kearney, hooker Jason Harris-Wright, and Andrew Browne, who has led the pack in the past two weeks.
The return of internationals Mike McCarthy and Tongan Fetu’u Vainikolo to the starting line-up will boost the side. As a result Browne returns to the blindside joining Willie Faloon and McKeon the backrow, with McCarthy partnering Kearney in the second row. Ethienne Reynecke is likely to see action off the bench having returned from injury this week, while youngster Danny Qualter has also been named on the bench.
“It’s a big occasion for the club, and we really fancied ourselves after last year’s campaign, but unfortunately the hand we have been dealt is that we have a hell of a lot of injuries,” said Elwood.
The Basque outfit is renowned for its physicality up front, and Elwood says Connacht will continue to play to their strength — moving the ball around.
“We are a year more mature in the Heineken Cup which I hope will stand to us, and although we have a lot of youth, the beauty of youth is that they have no fear. Hopefully it will be a nice evening because our game is playing 15-man rugby.”
Both sides need a win to keep their qualification hopes alive. Biarritz, with an opening day loss to Harlequins, have made four changes to the side that overcame Zebre in round two by 38-17, and will be favourites to pick up a first away win.
Biarritz captain Imanol Harinordoquy, who returned last week from injury, is named on the bench while Dimitri Yachvili directs action from scrum half. Iain Balshaw, Taku Ngwenya and Aled Brew are all named in the backline.
CONNACHT: R Henshaw, T O’Halloran, D Poolman, D McSharry, F Vainikolo, D Parks (capt), K Marmion; B Wilkinson, J Harris-Wright, R Loughney, M Kearney M McCarthy, A Browne, W Faloon, E McKeon.
Replacements: E Reynecke, D Buckley, JP Cooney, D Qualter, J O’Connor, P O’Donohoe, M Nikora, M Jarvis.
BIARRITZ OLYMPIQUE PB: I Balshaw; T Ngwenya, C Gimenez, M Bosch, A Brew; M Berquist, D Yachvili (cpt); F Barcella, B August, F Gomez Kodela, Ek Lund, TDubarry, W Lauret, B Guyot, R Lakafia.
Replacements: JP Genevois, T Synaeghel, W Blaauw, P Taele, I Harinordoquy, Y Lesgourgues, JP Barraque, S Burotu.
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