Connacht running out of fuel
Published 24/05/2015 | 02:30
The problem with Ireland and the Barbarians is that they tend to get together at the most inconvenient times. Like the end of the season: if the gig is not competitive then it's not going to turn too many heads.
So a decent crowd might come out in Limerick on Thursday night if the weather is nice, but the mood will be the polar opposite of Kingsholm this afternoon when Gloucester and Connacht battle for a down-payment on a place in next season's Champions Cup.
Games at this stage of the season are unique: winning or losing means much more than in the first week of September, and fatigue only adds to the stress. And Connacht are tired. It was high on the list of points made by Pat Lam last weekend after the defeat by Ospreys.
After a week of regrouping and battery-recharging Lam can just about put a decent team onto the park, but the list of unavailables runs to a staggering 16. Of that lot, Nathan White, Mick Kearney, Jake Heenan and Quinn Roux would all have been in the mix up front, as would Kieron Marmion, Craig Ronaldson, Mils Muliaina and Dave McSharry behind. The net result is a weak bench supporting a team who are up against a Gloucester outfit most of whom are coming off the back of two weeks' preparation. All but three of the side who started against Bath in the Premiership last weekend were rested.
That defeat for David Humphreys' side halted a run of four wins - including the Challenge Cup final success against Edinburgh - but the circumstances were skewed: the focus was reflected in their team selection at the Rec that day, so the 50-point hammering they suffered was of little consequence.
Winning today, and having a home draw on Sunday in the final play-off against Bordeaux Begles, is a different matter. That they would have to play it in Worcester because of a Madness concert in Kingsholm on Saturday wouldn't upset them too much. Gloucester are red-hot favourites.
Gloucester: C Sharples; J May, B Meakes, B Twelvetrees (capt), H Purdy; J Hook, G Laidlaw; N Wood, R Hibbard, J Afoa, T Savage, T Palmer, J Rowan, R Moriarty, D Thomas. Replacements: D Dawiduk, Y Thomas, S Knight, E Stooke, L Ludlow, D Robson, B Burns, R Cook.
Connacht: T O'Halloran; F Carr, R Hensaw, B Aki, M Healy; J Carty, J Cooney; D Buckley, T McCartney, R Ah You, G Naoupu, A Muldowney, J Muldoon (capt), E McKeon, E Masterson. Replacements: D Heffernan, JP Cooney, F Bealham, A Browne, J Connolly, I Porter, M Nikora, S O'Leary
Referee: R Poite (France)
Gloucester v Connacht,
BT Sport, 3.30
Sunday Indo Sport