Elwood lays plans for Quins challenge
THEY may face something of an impossible mission to qualify for the Challenge Cup quarter-finals, but Eric Elwood appears to be accepting the challenge.
The coach's team selection would indicate he is not giving up on achieving a quarter-final spot with a strong line-up taking the field at the Sportsground this evening. The westerners' future is out of their own hands after their second defeat in three matches last weekend.
But the hosts' task will be made all the more difficult by Conor O'Shea's decision to make the trip with a reinforced XV, having recalled England scrum-half Danny Care, suspended last week, and centre Jordan Turner-Hall to his line-up.
AIL recruit Darragh Fanning comes in for Brian Tuohy on the wing for the hosts, while Brett Wilkinson's injury sees him replaced by Ronan Loughney at prop.
Connacht's defeat to Cavalieri in Italy in the first round of fixtures has done seemingly terminal damage to their prospects, with the failure to collect a bonus point against the English side meaning the required top spot looks beyond their grasp.
Elwood is perhaps mindful of his side's form, which has seen their sole win since they beat Bayonne at home on October 13 coming in the challenge match against Samoa.
With a host of his side being linked with a move away from Galway taking away from the positive glow of the IRFU's commitment to the province, Connacht badly need a win to boost spirits ahead of the visit of Munster on St Stephen's Day.
Ian Keatley remains at outside centre with Miah Nikora at No 10, while ex-Harlequin Gavin Duffy has another chance to take on his old club. O'Shea's knowledge of the local scene will benefit Quins, who are in the Premiership nether regions as they continue to suffer from the Bloodgate hangover.
Openside Chris Robshaw admitted that Connacht were unlucky not to leave the Stoop with a precious bonus point last Sunday, but reckons O'Shea's influence could be crucial.
"I've never been to Connacht," he said. "But we have a close relationship with them through Conor and we've played them in the Challenge Cup over the last few years.
"I am sure it will be windy and I am sure it will be cold. You saw how they played (last weekend); they were a very physical, confrontational team and we were pretty lucky to come away having not allowed them a bonus point. Going over there is going to be very challenging and a completely different task."
The locals will demand a performance from their team, even if qualification looks unlikely. They would need the Italians to produce a remarkable tournaround against Bayonne, who won the first leg of their double-header 65-7 last weekend.
Quins have won two from three and can put Connacht to bed this evening. They looked better at taking their opportunities last weekend and the return of Care should see them over the line.
CONNACHT -- G Duffy; D Fanning, I Keatley, K Matthews, F Carr; M Nikora, F Murphy; R Loughney, S Cronin, J Hagan; M Swift, M McCarthy; A Browne, J O'Connor, J Muldoon. Replacements: A Flavin, R Sweeney, B Fa'amausili, B Upton, M McComish, C Willis, T Nathan, B Tuohy.
HARLEQUINS -- M Brown; G Camacho, G Lowe, J Turner-Hall, T Williams; N Evans, D Care; C Jones, J Gray, J Johnston; O Kohn, P Browne; T Guest, C Robshaw, N Easter. Replacements: M Cairns, J Marler, M Lambert, T Vallejos, W Skinner, K Dickson, R Clegg, T Casson.
REF -- James Jones (Wales).