Saturday 3 December 2016

Connacht bid to show size doesn't matter in latest Toulouse tussle

Published 15/10/2016 | 02:30

O'Halloran “If we start to get into big collisions. . . and a big one against Toulouse is the breakdown” Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
O'Halloran “If we start to get into big collisions. . . and a big one against Toulouse is the breakdown” Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Connacht put a lot into getting to the start-line of Europe's premier competition on their own merits and now their task is to justify their place as top seeds.

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For the third time, they welcome Toulouse to the Sportsground and they hope that they will cause their visitors a bit more trouble this time.

When the four-time champions first arrived in Galway, they strolled down the welcome mat and all over their hosts. Two years later, they came stung by the Westerners' temerity in winning at Stade Ernest Wallon and crushed a Connacht side weakened by illness.

This evening, there is an argument that Toulouse are a fading force who face a rising tide in the Pro12 champions.

If all things were equal, that would be the case but the Top 14 does not equal Connacht's domestic scene; certainly not in terms of size.

Up front, the Irish province are giving up almost a stone a man to Toulouse, who will look to dominate the close exchanges.

Once, they would have prayed for rain in Galway to upset their guests but now they will be hoping the inclement forecast is wrong. A dry day would suit their purpose far better.

That's because Connacht need to get their enormous opponents moving.

Blitz

They need to blitz the breakdown and keep the ball alive until mismatches appear against tiring big men.

"If we start to get into big collisions. . . and a big one against Toulouse is the breakdown," Tiernan O'Halloran (below) said. "If you get slow breakdown and the ball-carries aren't right then you won't get quick ball and everything else struggles.

"It's on us now with our ball-carries to be smart, use footwork and get over the gain-line and hopefully we can let loose with the backline then.

"The last thing you want against a big French pack is to take them on up front."

Rarely in the Top 14 will Toulouse come up against a team who play like Connacht and they will look to ensure that the men in green don't get enough possession to play and, when they do, they're too tired to go through their normal routines.

Pat Lam has made just one change to the team that beat Ulster last weekend, with his heaviest forward, Quinn Roux, included from the start.

That means Ultan Dillane drops to the bench alongside Kieran Marmion, who returns from his calf injury. Between them, the Ireland duo can give an injection of pace during the second half.

With Luke McAlister left at home, Ugo Mola has handed the No 10 shirt to Jean-Marc Doussain in a French-dominated backline.

Whether they see much of the ball is another matter. Toulouse try to keep things tight where possible and will back their set-piece to get the upper hand.

It's a big challenge for Connacht tighthead Conor Carey who is quietly settling into the role with his new club. Denis Buckley's injury has forced Lam to switch Finlay Bealham across to the loosehead side, handing the former Ulster man his opportunity.

Having a renowned scrummager at tighthead lock in Roux behind him should help, but the home side can expect to come under pressure as Toulouse look for penalties.

A clever coach like Lam will have devised ways of getting the ball in and out quickly, while he will have identified opportunities in the way the visitors set up defensively.

There have been signs that Connacht have got back to their free-running best of late, and their capacity to find space for Bundee Aki and deliver good possession to Niyi Adeolokun, Cian Kelleher and O'Halloran will be key.

They have the attacking weapons, but the big question is whether they can win and keep enough ball to use them.

If they can break even in possession, it could be enough for another famous night in Galway.

Verdict: Connacht

CONNACHT - T O'Halloran; N Adeolokun, B Aki, C Ronaldson, C Kelleher; J Carty, C Blade; F Bealham, D Heffernan, C Carey; Q Roux, A Browne; E McKeon, J Heenan, J Muldoon. Reps: S Delahunt, R Loughney, JP Cooney, U Dillane, S O'Brien, K Marmion, S O'Leary, S Ili.

TOULOUSE - M Medard; Y Huget, F Fritz, Y David, P Perez; JM Doussain, S Bezy; JM Doussain, S Bezy; C Baille, C Tolofua, C Johnston; R Gray, J Tekori; F Cros, P Faasalele, C Axtens. Reps: J Marchand, V Kakovin, D Aldergheri, E Maka, G Lamboley, T Gray, T Flood, G Fickou.

Ref - L Pearce (England)

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