Home advantage in a Champions Cup play-off final against Stade Francais is the carrot dangling in front of Connacht as they look to recapture their best form in today’s eagerly-awaited showdown with Northampton Saints at Franklin’s Gardens.

EUROPEAN CHAMPIONS CUP QUALIFICATION PLAY-OFF: Saturday, May 20

NORTHAMPTON SAINTS (7th, Aviva Premiership) v CONNACHT (8th, Guinness PRO12), Franklin’s Gardens, 4pm (live TG4/RTE Radio 1)

Team News: Ireland internationals Niyi Adeolokun, Ultan Dillane and Matt Healy have all returned from injury to feature in Connacht’s matchday squad.

Head coach Pat Lam has made seven personnel changes for the knock-out tie at Franklin’s Gardens.

Niyi Adeolokun starts on the right wing with Danie Poolman moving to partner Craig Ronaldson for a rare start in the centre.

Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham are both promoted to the starting front row in a week that also saw them named in Joe Schmidt’s Ireland squad for the summer tour to America and Japan.

Sean O’Brien and Jake Heenan start in the back row along with captain John Muldoon at number 8. Ruled out through injury since February, Ultan Dillane and Matt Healy are both in line to make an appearance from the bench tomorrow.

Commenting on today’s crunch encounter with his former club, Pat Lam said: “Everything over the past few weeks has been geared towards this game. We know we haven’t been anywhere near our best in the last few matches and that’s been a big disappointment for us as a team.

“We’ve had a very positive week on and off the training pitch, but we all know that the 80-plus minutes from 4pm tomorrow is when it needs to count.”

Meanwhile, there are two changes to the Northampton Saints that overcame Harlequins 22-20 in the last round of the Aviva Premiership. Both are in the pack, with Christian Day and Teimana Harrison both returning to the team.

JJ Hanrahan, who is returning to his native Munster in the summer, misses out due to a shoulder injury, but Saints have a strong spine to their team which includes England’s Six Nations-winning captain Dylan Hartley, 2017 Lions George North and Courtney Lawes, England centre Luther Burrell and France number 8 Louis Picamoles.

NORTHAMPTON SAINTS: Ahsee Tuala; Ben Foden, Nafi Tuitavake, Luther Burrell, George North; Harry Mallinder, Nic Groom; Alex Waller, Dylan Hartley (capt), Kieran Brookes, Courtney Lawes, Christian Day, Jamie Gibson, Teimana Harrison, Louis Picamoles.

Replacements: Mikey Haywood, Campese Ma’afu, Gareth Denman, Api Ratuniyarawa, Tom Wood, Lee Dickson, Sam Olver, Rory Hutchinson.

CONNACHT: Tiernan O’Halloran; Niyi Adeolokun, Danie Poolman, Craig Ronaldson, Cian Kelleher; Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, David Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Quinn Roux, Andrew Browne, Sean O’Brien, Jake Heenan, John Muldoon (capt).

Replacements: Shane Delahunt, JP Cooney, Conor Carey, Ultan Dillane, Naulia Dawai, Caolin Blade, John Cooney, Matt Healy.

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)

Assistant Referees: Pascal Gauzere, Ludovic Cayre (both France)

Television Match Official: Eric Gauzins (France)

Pre-Match Quotes: John Muldoon

“It’s been a tough period for us, but hopefully we are out the other end of that now and we can focus on a bright future. We know what’s at stake and we will cope with the expectations. We have to perform or this will be our last game of the season – and none of us want that.

“Clearly we made a lot of mistakes in our last two games, especially against Munster. You would hope we would be sharper now, and we won’t make the same errors again. It’s a huge opportunity for Connacht to get back into the Champions Cup for next year.

“It’s basically a cup semi-final, and if we win we get to come back to the Sportsground. If we don’t win then we will be really disappointed at not being able to play in the top tier again.

“We have had flashes of really good play this year – that was mixed with some errors, but hopefully we can cut them out this weekend. There is a carrot at the end of this and a home game against Stade Francais would be huge for us.

“Another thing about this week is Connacht are celebrating the inclusion of a few new internationals into the Ireland touring squad for the summer. It’s great to see Dave Heffernan and John Cooney make the step up now and I’m delighted for the five lads with Tiernan, Kieran Marmion and Finlay Bealham back in there too.

“They have been brilliant all year for us and it’s fitting that Joe Schmidt has recognised those performances.

“They are all players with big futures in the game, and it’s a great boost for us ahead of this massive game in Franklin’s Gardens.”

Dorian West (Northampton Saints)

“We’ve had a good week this week, we’ve trained properly, we’ve prepared well for the game at the weekend against Connacht and we’re looking forward to it.

“There aren’t familiar names on the (Connacht) teamsheet, we’re not facing people we play against week in, week out. But we’ve got plenty of footage of their games, we’ve analysed them well.

“We know what they do, what they have done in the past, but obviously all that only goes so far because you need to be prepared for anything on the day. They could change what they do. But we have had a good look at them and we know what they’re likely to do. We’ve prepared well.”

Ireland internationals Niyi Adeolokun, Ultan Dillane and Matt Healy have all returned from injury to feature in Connacht’s match day squad for the Champions Cup play-off semi-final clash with Northampton Saints tomorrow (4pm).

Head coach Pat Lam has made seven personnel changes for the knockout game in Franklin’s Gardens.

Adeolokun starts on the right wing while Danie Poolman moves in to partner Craig Ronaldson for a rare start in the centres.

Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham are both promoted to the front row in a week that also saw them named in Joe Schmidt’s Ireland squad for the Summer Tour.

Sean O’Brien and Jake Heenan start in the back row with captain John Muldoon at number 8.

Ruled out through injury since February, Dillane and Healy are both in line to make an appearance from the bench tomorrow.

Commenting on tomorrow’s game, head coach Pat Lam said:

“Everything over the past few weeks has been geared towards this game. We know we haven’t been anywhere near our best in the last few matches and that’s been a big disappointment for us as a team. We’ve had a very positive week on and off the training pitch but we all know that the eighty plus minutes from 4pm tomorrow is when it needs to count.”

 

Connacht team to face Northampton Saints

Saturday, May 20th, kick off 4pm, Franklin’s Gardens

15        Tiernan O’Halloran

14        Niyi Adeolokun

13        Danie Poolman

12        Craig Ronaldson

11        Cian Kelleher

10        Jack Carty

9          Kieran Marmion

1          Denis Buckley

2          Dave Heffernan

3           Finlay Bealham

4          Quinn Roux

5          Andrew Browne

6           Sean O’Brien

7          Jake Heenan

8          John Muldoon (captain)

 

Replacements:

16        Shane Delahunt

17        JP Cooney

18        Conor Carey

19        Ultan Dillane

20        Naulia Dawai

21        Caolin Blade

22        John Cooney

23        Matt Healy

Injured/unavailable:  Tom McCartney, Ronan Loughney, Nepia Fox-Matamua, Shane O’Leary, Bundee Aki, Peter Robb, Stacey Ili, Tom Farrell, Eoin Griffin, Josh Rowland.

 

Northampton Saints v Connacht Rugby
Saturday May 20th
Franklin’s Gardens
Kick off 4pm

 

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)

Live on TG4

Connacht and Northampton Saints lock horns for just the fifth time on Saturday with the teams tied at two wins apiece after their first four clashes.

Each previous encounter was in the European Challenge Cup with the English club recording a comfortable 31-11 victory at the Sportsground in the first meeting of the clubs in October 1996. Connacht finished that European campaign fourth in their six-team pool of the inaugural European Challenge Cup.

Eleven months later, when the sides next met, the tables were turned as Connacht shocked Northampton with a stunning 43-13 victory in Galway with Warren Gatland at the helm.

Incredibly, three of the six scorers for Connacht currently hold roles at the province. Domestic Rugby Manager Eric Elwood kicked three conversions and four penalties with CEO Willie Ruane and Academy Manager Nigel Carolan both touching down. Former Ireland international Pat Duignan and ex-Ireland A man Shane McEntee were also try-scorers on the day with Mervyn Murphy, now IRFU Technical Analyst, kicking a penalty for good measure.

Connacht followed up that victory with a 20-15 win at Franklin’s Gardens in the first meeting of the clubs at the famous English venue weeks later. It was a landmark victory for the province as they toppled the highly fancied English club to top the four-team pool.

Connacht celebrate scoring against Northampton.

Connacht took the lead through John Maher after one of the side’s trademark moves off a 13-man line-out.

Out-half Elwood made the sweetest of breaks to create the second try for Junior Charlie, and Ruane put Carolan over for the third try.

That win secured a spot in the last eight but Connacht were undone 40-27 by Agen in France after a cracking quarter-final.

The most recent clash between the sides was again played in Northampton, back in April 2009, at the quarter-final stage of the Challenge Cup.

Connacht were well in the game and led with half an hour to play but indiscipline cost the province dearly and four tries in the final 11 minutes clinched a 42-13 victory for hosts Northampton.

In the winner-takes-all fixture between the sides on Saturday (4pm), whoever emerges victorious will progress to the following weekend’s Champions Cup play-off final at home to either Cardiff Blues or Stade Francais (depending on the result of their play-off) for that final Champions Cup spot.

See our latest squad update ahead of Saturday’s clash here.

Ahead of Saturday’s Champions Cup playoff game away to Northampton, the Connacht Rugby medical team have provided the following update.

Ultan Dillane (shoulder) will integrate into team training this week.

Andrew Browne (calf) sustained a calf injury in training and will be monitored by the medical staff in relation to training.

Marnitz Boshoff (head injury) is completing his graduated return to play protocols this week and will integrate into team training.

Steve Crosbie (AC joint) has recovered from his AC joint injury and will integrate into team training this week.

Tom Farrell (groin) and Shane O’Leary (foot) sustained injuries last week and will be monitored by the medical staff in relation to training.

Peter Robb (hip) will integrate into team training this week.

Niyi Adeolokun (hamstring) and Matt Healy (hand) will both integrate into team training this week.

The Connacht team to face Northampton will be named at 12 noon on Friday.

Northampton Saints v Connacht Rugby
Saturday 20th May
Franklin’s Gardens
Kick off 4pm

Connacht will travel to play Northampton Saints at Franklin’s Gardens in the Champions Cup play-off semi-final on Saturday, May 20 (4pm).

Victory for Stade Francais over Gloucester in tonight’s Challenge Cup final saw Northampton claim England’s spot in the play-offs.

The winners of the Northampton v Connacht clash will have home advantage in the play-off final against either Stade Francais or Cardiff Blues.

Connacht supporters travelling to Northampton for the game are advised to purchase tickets directly from Northampton Saints here. There is no official ‘away’ section but the Connacht Clan Supporters Club have been purchasing tickets in Terrace D.

Friday 19 May

Play-off 2: Stade Français Paris v Cardiff Blues, Stade Jean Bouin (18.00)

Saturday 20 May

Play-off 1: Northampton Saints v Connacht Rugby, Franklin’s Gardens (16.00)

Play-off Final – Friday 26 May
Winner Play-off 1 v winner Play-off 2 (19.45)
The winner of Play-off 1 will have home advantage
Sky Sports

The following clubs have already secured their places in next season’s tournament:

Aviva Premiership – Wasps, Exeter Chiefs, Saracens, Leicester Tigers, Bath Rugby, Harlequins

Guinness PRO12 – Munster Rugby, Leinster Rugby, Scarlets, Ospreys, Ulster Rugby, Glasgow Warriors, Benetton Rugby

TOP 14 – 
La Rochelle, ASM Clermont Auvergne, Montpellier, RC Toulon, Castres Olympique, Racing 92

  • The remaining 18 clubs from the Aviva Premiership, the Guinness PRO12 and the TOP 14 which have not qualified for the Champions Cup will play in the 2017/18 Challenge Cup. The 19th and 20th places in next season’s Challenge Cup have been secured by Russia’s Enisei-STM and Krasny Yar who will play in tomorrow’s Continental Shield final at the BT Murrayfield complex.
  • The Pool Draws for 2017/18 Champions Cup and Challenge Cup will take place in Neuchâtel, Switzerland on Thursday 8 June.

EPCR can confirm the dates and kick-off times for the Champions Cup play-offs to determine which club secures the 20th place in the 2017/18 tournament. Connacht will travel to play either Northampton Saints or Gloucester Rugby on Saturday May 20th with the game kicking off at 4pm.

Connacht Rugby’s opposition will be confirmed following the conclusion of tonight’s Challenge Cup final between Gloucester and Stade Francais.

If Gloucester win, we will travel to face them in Kingsholm next Saturday; if they lose, we will be on the road to play Northampton at Franklin’s Gardens.

Friday 19 May

Play-off 2: Stade Français Paris v Cardiff Blues, Stade Jean Bouin (18.00)

Saturday 20 May

Play-off 1: Northampton Saints or Gloucester Rugby v Connacht Rugby, Franklin’s Gardens or Kingsholm (16.00)

Play-off Final – Friday 26 May
Winner Play-off 1 v winner Play-off 2 (19.45)
The winner of Play-off 1 will have home advantage
Sky Sports

The following clubs have already secured their places in next season’s tournament:

Aviva Premiership – Wasps, Exeter Chiefs, Saracens, Leicester Tigers, Bath Rugby, Harlequins

Guinness PRO12 – Munster Rugby, Leinster Rugby, Scarlets, Ospreys, Ulster Rugby, Glasgow Warriors, Benetton Rugby

TOP 14 –
La Rochelle, ASM Clermont Auvergne, Montpellier, RC Toulon, Castres Olympique, Racing 92

  • The remaining 18 clubs from the Aviva Premiership, the Guinness PRO12 and the TOP 14 which have not qualified for the Champions Cup will play in the 2017/18 Challenge Cup. The 19th and 20th places in next season’s Challenge Cup have been secured by Russia’s Enisei-STM and Krasny Yar who will play in tomorrow’s Continental Shield final at the BT Murrayfield complex.
  • The Pool Draws for 2017/18 Champions Cup and Challenge Cup will take place in Neuchâtel, Switzerland on Thursday 8 June.

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