Connacht coach Pat Lam shuffles his pack for quarter-final test against Grenoble
Connach coach Pat Lam has made five changes to his team to face Grenoble in the Challange Cup quarter-final on Saturday evening.
Jake Heenan steps aside after he went over on his ankle in training while Kieran Marmion returns at scrum-half.
“We have a few changes to the squad from last week but we are confident that we have a strong team to go over and execute our game plan against Grenoble,” said Lam.
From all the eight European Cups quarter-finals this weekend, you could place a fair wager on this being the most entertaining whatever about the most engrossing.
The optimism and positivity of Grenoble coach Bernard Jackman could be mistaken for what you would expect to hear from the coach in the opposite corner.
“It is important that we don’t lose our ambition as a team and continue to look to express ourselves,” said Jackman.
“It is easy to coach conservative rugby, but that’s not what we are looking for at Grenoble.
“If you preach attacking rugby you need good structure in your side and to give the team a solid platform off which to work.
“We are getting there and there is huge excitement throughout the club about what we might be able to achieve in Europe.”
What must have started out as a secondary concern for Grenoble at the beginning of the season has now become much more than that.
Afterall, Jackman’s men are a distance clear of Oyonnax and Agen, both doomed to relegation, and seven points shy of sixth-placed Toulouse in the race for the French League and Champions Cup endgame.
In many ways, their season all boils down to this with a Champions Cup place on offer to the winners of the competition.
“There is a huge amount of interest in the Challenge Cup quarter-final,” said Jackman.
“I know the Connacht fans will be travelling in big numbers. The atmosphere at Stade des Alpes is going to be magnificent.”
Indeed, the 39-year-old ultimate journeymen spent five seasons at Connacht from two different contracts (1997-1999 and 2002-2005).
This all happened before the Tullow man settled into his home province for another five seasons where his playing career was crowned by Leinster’s breakthrough in the 2009 Heineken Cup final.
He knows all about Europe, what it takes and how long it can take.
In fact, it was the in-between years at Connacht that the former Ireland international savoured a Challenge Cup win with Sale Sharks in 2002, although it was spoiled by the fact he played in all the pool rounds and none of the knockout matches.
“It is going to be a massive occasion for the town and the club and, having reached the last eight, the target now has to be to go all the way to the final in Lyon,” he said.
“It is only an hour up the road and it would be a great moment for the club to reach a European final.”
CONNACHT (v Grenoble)
15. Matt Healy
14. Niyi Adeolokun
13. Robbie Henshaw
12. Bundee Aki
11. Danie Poolman
10. Shane O’Leary
9. Kieran Marmion
1. Denis Buckley
2. Tom McCartney
3. Finlay Bealham
4. Ultan Dillane
5. Andrew Browne
6. Sean O’Brien
7. Eoin McKeon
8. John Muldoon (c)
16. Dave Heffernan
17. Ronan Loughney
18. JP Cooney
19. Quinn Roux
20. James Connolly
21. John Cooney
22. Peter Robb
23. Fionn Carr