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.”

Did you know?

  • Connacht have won three of their last five fixtures with Munster, but did slip up 9-16 in Galway in round 12.
  • Last season Connacht won at Thomond Park for the first time since 1986.
  • Connacht have made the European Champions Cup Play-offs but their only win in the last five rounds of the Guinness PRO12 was at Edinburgh on 7 April.
  • Munster have secured a home Semi-Final for only the second time in the last seven seasons but if they are to overhaul Leinster to become top seeds they will need a win in this game and hope that their rivals trip up.
  • The Munstermen have won their last five Guinness PRO12 encounters, whilst their only defeat since round 6 was at home to Scarlets on 24 February.

 

Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:

Played 29, Munster won 24, Connacht won 4 and 1 game drawn.

 

MUNSTER v CONNACHT

Saturday 6th May

At Thomond Park, 5.15pm.
Live on TG4
Referee: David Wilkinson (IRFU, 51st competition game)

Assistant Referees:  TBC

Citing Commissioner:  Wayne Sheridan (IRFU)

TMO: TBC

 

HEAD TO HEAD – RECENT GUINNESS PRO12 MEETINGS
Date Venue M C Munster scorers Connacht scorers
Sat 19 Apr 14 Sportsground 32 23 Andrew Conway(T) Paddy Butler(T) Denis Hurley(T) Ian Keatley(3C/2P) Gerhard van den Heever(T) Matt Healy(T) Danie Poolman(T) Eoin McKeon(T) Dan Parks(C) Miah Nikora(2P)
Thu 1 Jan 15 Sportsground 16 24 Peter O’Mahony(T) Ian Keatley(C/3P) Kieran Marmion(T) Darragh Leader(2C) Aly Muldowney(T) Miah Nikora(P) Craig Ronaldson(T/C)
Sat 28 Mar 15 Thomond Park 42 20 Duncan Casey(T) Andrew Smith(T) Keith Earls(T) JJ Hanrahan(3C) Billy Holland(T) Denis Hurley(T) Ian Keatley(3C) Simon Zebo(T) Jack Carty(2P) Shane O’Leary(T) Miah Nikora(T/2C)
Sat 28 Nov 15 Thomond Park 12 18 Niall Scannell(T) Ian Keatley(C) Penalty Try(T) Tiernan O’Halloran(T) Bundee Aki(T) Craig Ronaldson(C/2P)
Sat 16 Apr 16 Sportsground 14 35 Johnny Holland(2C) Mike Sherry(T) Simon Zebo(T) Finlay Bealham(T) Shane O’Leary(3C/3P) Niyi Adeolokun(2T) Penalty Try(T)
Sat 31 Dec 16 Sportsground 16 9 Rhys Marshall(T) Ian Keatley(C/D/2P) Jack Carty(3P)

 

 

COMPARISON Munster Connacht
Last 3 PRO12 results: 8 Apr – Glasgow (H) W 10-7 7 Apr – Edinburgh (A) W 22-19
  15 Apr – Ulster (H) W 22-20 15 Apr – Leinster (H) L 24-37
  29 Apr – Treviso (A) W 34-14 29 Apr – Scarlets (H) L 8-30
 
PRO12 2016/17 2nd – W18 D0 L3 – 81pts 8th – W9 D0 L12 – 44pts
Last 6 PRO12 form LwwWWw (22pts) WllwLL (10pts)
Top try scorer 9 – Ronan O’Mahony 6 – Niyi Adeolokun
Top points scorer 126 – Tyler Bleyendaal 70 – Jack Carty

 

 

Did you know?

  • The Irishmen have lost just twice in Galway since mid-September: against Munster on New Year’s Eve and Leinster in round 20.
  • Connacht’s only two home defeats to Welsh regions in the last three seasons have both been to Ospreys.
  • Connacht Rugby’s only victory in the last four rounds of the Guinness PRO12 came on a visit to Edinburgh on 7 April.
  • Scarlets only loss in the last nine rounds of the Guinness PRO12 was to Leinster in Dublin on 4 March, a defeat which also saw them end a four game winning run against Irish provinces.
  • Connacht have won only two of their last ten encounters against Scarlets – both in Galway, in November 2014 and January 2016.

Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 27, Connacht 8 won 16, Scarlets won 18 with 1 game drawn.

CONNACHT RUGBY v SCARLETS

Saturday 29th April
At the Sportsground, 7.35pm.
Live on TG4 / S4C

Get your match ticket for Connacht v Scarlets here

Referee:  Mike Adamson (SRU, 7th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Lloyd Linton (SRU), Helen O’Reilly (IRFU)
Citing Commissioner:  Murray Whyte (IRFU)
TMO: Charles Samson (SRU)

HEAD TO HEAD – RECENT GUINNESS PRO12 MEETINGS
Date Venue

C

S

Connacht scorers Scarlets scorers
Sun 30 Mar 14 Parc y Scarlets

30

32

Eoin McKeon(T) Robbie Henshaw(T) Kieran Marmion(T) Fionn Carr(T) Dan Parks(2P) Miah Nikora(2C) Gareth Davies(T) Jonathan Davies(T) Gareth Maule(T) Rhys Priestland(3C/2P) Josh Turnbull(T)
Sat 29 Nov 14 Sportsground

14

8

Matt Healy(T) Jack Carty(3P) Harry Robinson(T) Steve Shingler(P)
Sun 15 Feb 15 Parc y Scarlets

14

32

Jack Carty(3P) Niyi Adeolokun(T) Harry Robinson(T) Steve Shingler(3C/2P) Jordan Williams(T) James Davies(T) Michael Tagicakibau(T)
Sun 10 Jan 16 Parc y Scarlets

19

21

Matt Healy(T) Jack Carty(2P) Craig Ronaldson(C/2P) Mike Collins(T) Steve Shingler(P) Steffan Evans(T) Aled Thomas(C/2P)
Sat 30 Jan 16 Sportsground

30

17

Denis Buckley(T) Jack Carty(2C/2P) Jake Heenan(2T) Rodney Ah You(T) DTH van der Merwe(T) Aled Thomas(2C/P) Gareth Owen(T)
Sat 24 Sep 16 Parc y Scarlets

8

17

Jack Carty(P) Niyi Adeolokun(T) Rhys Patchell(2C/D) Liam Williams(2T)

 

COMPARISON Connacht Scarlets
Last 3 PRO12 results: 1 Apr – Zebre (A) L 22-25 24 Mar – Edinburgh (H) W 26-10
  7 Apr – Edinburgh (A) W 22-19 8 Apr – Treviso (H) W 51-5
  15 Apr – Leinster (H) L 24-37 15 Apr – Dragons (A) W 21-16
 
PRO12 2016/17 8th – W9 D0 L11 – 44pts 3rd – W15 D0 L5 – 67pts
Last 6 PRO12 form wWllwL (15pts) WwlWWw (23pts)
Top try scorer 6 – Niyi Adeolokun 8 – Steffan Evans
Top points scorer 70 – Jack Carty 107 – Rhys Patchell

 

Did you know?

  • Connacht’s 22-19 victory at Edinburgh last weekend in the Guinness PRO12 ended a two game losing run.
  • Connacht’s only defeat at the Sportsground in any competition since September was to Munster on 31 December.
  • Connacht’s solitary victory over a fellow Irish province this season was against Ulster in Galway in round 6 of the PRO12.
  • Leinster have won their last seven matches in all competitions since drawing 24-all at Castres in January, whilst their most recent reversal was to Munster in Limerick on St Stephen’s Day –  their only defeat by a fellow Irish province this season.
  • Leinster won 24-13 when the two sides clashed at the RDS Arena in round 7 to reverse the result in last season’s PRO12 final at BT Murrayfield.
  • Connacht have lost just once to Leinster in Galway in the last four encounters: 8-16 in January 2014.

Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:

Played 29, Connacht won 8, Leinster won 21.

CONNACHT RUGBY v LEINSTER RUGBY
Saturday 15th April
At the Sportsground, 7.35pm.
Live on TG4

Referee: Ian Davies (WRU, 62nd competition game)
Assistant Referees: Wayne Davies (WRU), Joy Neville (IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: Eugene Ryan (IRFU)
TMO: Neil Paterson (SRU)

HEAD TO HEAD – RECENT GUINNESS PRO12 MEETINGS
Date Venue C L Connacht scorers Leinster scorers
Fri 19 Sep 14 Sportsground 10 9 Jack Carty(C/P) Kieran Marmion(T) Ian Madigan(3P)
Fri 19 Dec 14 RDS Arena 11 21 Jack Carty(2P) George Naoupu(T) Jimmy Gopperth(C/3P) Shane Jennings(T) Zane Kirchner(T)
Fri 1 Jan 16 RDS Arena 0 13 Ian Madigan(P) Johnny Sexton(C/P) Josh van der Flier(T)
Sat 26 Mar 16 Sportsground 7 6 Aj MacGinty(C) Kieran Marmion(T) Ian Madigan(2P)
Sat 28 May 16 BT Murrayfield (Final) 20 10 Matt Healy(T) Tiernan O’Halloran(T) Aj MacGinty(C/P) Niyi Adeolokun(T) Sean Cronin(T) Johnny Sexton(C/P)
Sat 29 Oct 16 RDS Arena 13 24 Jack Carty(C) Shane Delahunt(T) Craig Ronaldson(2P) Adam Byrne(T) Barry Daly(T) Isa Nacewa(C/4P)

 

 

 

COMPARISON Connacht Leinster
Last 3 PRO12 results: 25 Mar – Glasgow (A) L 24-35 4 Mar – Scarlets (H) W 45-9
  1 Apr – Zebre (A) L 22-25 25 Mar – Cardiff Blues (H) W 22-21
  7 Apr – Edinburgh (A) W 22-19 8 Apr – Ospreys (A) W 20-18
 
PRO12 2016/17 7th – W9 D0 L10 – 44pts 1st – W16 D0 L3 – 74pts
Last 6 PRO12 form WwWllw (19pts) wWwWWw (28pts)
Top try scorer 6 – Niyi Adeolokun 8 – Joey Carbery
Top points scorer 70 – Jack Carty 85 – Isa Nacewa

 

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