In a big day for Irish teams in the Guinness Pro12, Connacht’s needs are probably greater than the rest.
With Munster and Ulster fighting for a home semi-final, and Leinster safe in the top six, Connacht will hope their dreams of Champions Cup rugby will have taken a step further come 5pm this evening.
Scarlets, four points ahead of Connacht, travel to Treviso and will be favourites to win and claim that automatic sixth qualification place.Thus Connacht are realistically looking at the seventh placed qualification play-off against Gloucester, and to do that, they need to win and shake off Edinburgh, currently one point behind.
Pat Lam’s side cannot afford to rely on Leinster, who have nothing to play for but pride when they travel to Murrayfield for this final Pro 12 game of what has been a disappointing season for Matt O’Connor side.
Up against an experienced Ospreys currently leading the Pro 12, Connacht’s Robbie Henshaw says the carrot of Champions Cup rugby is massive.
“I would equate it to a test match because there are four or five teams playing for something here, ourselves, the Scarlets, Edinburgh, and the Ospreys, who are travelling with a fully loaded side and the intention of a home semi-final. We can only produce our best performance and see what happens.”
The Ireland player, who this week has been named the IRUPA Young Player of the Year for a third season in succession, and one of two Connacht players on the Pro 12 dream team, will be hoping he can also replicate the try that won him the VW Try of the Year award.
“There is X factor in the backline and we are pretty excited about this fixture.”
Matt Healy is named on the right wing, but Pat Lam has been forced to call in experienced campaigner Fionn Carr for a rare start this season in the absence of Danie Poolman. Poolman is the latest injury victim having fractured his finger in last weekend’s match, hot of the heels of Darragh Leader’s hand injury the previous day in training.
Scrum-half Kieran Marmion returns to the starting XV for John Cooney, while Andrew Browne comes in for Ultan Dillane in the second row.
T O’Halloran, F Carr, R Henshaw, B Aki, M Healy, J Carty, K Marmion, D Buckley, T McCartney, R Ah You, A Browne, A Muldowney, J Muldoon (cpt), E Masterson, E McKeon.
D Heffernan, JP Cooney, F Bealham, M Swift, G Naoupu, J Cooney, M Nikora, S O’Leary.
D Evans, HJ Dirksen, B John, J Matavesi, E Walker, D Biggar, R Webb, N Smith, S Baldwin, D Arhip, T Ardron, A Jones (cpt), J King, J Tipuric, D Baker. Replacements:
S Perry, M Thomas, A Jarvis, R Thornton, D Lydiate, T Habberfield, S Davies, J Spratt.
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