Wednesday 13 December 2017

Brown predicts stormy night out west for Quins

Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

IT will be referenced in London all this week: the freezing wet night last January when Connacht, and the wind that swept in off the Atlantic, conspired to end a 14-game losing streak in a thrilling Heineken Cup defeat of Harlequins.

Quins' Nick Evans took a crucial kick at goal that the wind and rain seemed to toy with before sending it tailing wide. The Kiwi looked to the heavens for some sort of respite, but none was forthcoming. Niall O'Connor was coping better from the tee. It was, finally, to be Connacht's night.

From that result, seasons were shaped. Ulster's place in the knockout stage was officially sealed with that result in Galway. Their progress, along with Leinster, to the final meant Ireland would have four representatives in this season's competition.

Despite a memorable win over Toulouse, Quins' Heineken Cup season ended that night. Conor O'Shea's side would concentrate on their domestic duties and would ultimately end the campaign as Premiership champions.

O'Shea's side have already laid down a marker this season. They secured a bonus-point win at home to Biarritz last weekend, while Connacht got their first away win in the competition against Italian new boys Zebre.

The sides met in a pre-season friendly that a near full-strength Quins won comfortably. Robbie Henshaw, who won a Connacht Schools Senior Cup earlier this year, got his side's only try that day.

But Quins full-back Mike Brown remembers enough of last season's clash to know that that result will have little impact when the sides meet again on Saturday.

"I think they've come on a lot since last season," Brown said. "They play some great rugby; maybe they were a bit forward-dominating the season before but now they play some really expansive rugby.

"They have some good young Irish players in the back line and a really physical pack. They will be on their home patch where they play really well, with a passionate crowd who make it as uncomfortable as they can for the travelling team."

According to forecasts, the conditions are set to be more forgiving than they were on that famous January night, but the injured Evans won't have to contend with them. Instead, Ben Botica will start at 10.

The Kiwi-born, English-qualified out-half was nerveless when introduced early in the win over Biarritz, kicking 18 points.

The son of former league and union New Zealand international Frano Botica, he comes from good stock. Frano was a contemporary of Grant Fox and found his opportunities limited. He moved to England, where he played league for Wigan and Castleford before returning to union with Llanelli.

It was this time spent in the UK that made Ben eligible for a British passport, which made it easier for O'Shea to bring the youngster to London from North Harbour. He once landed 34 kicks on the bounce in New Zealand, so Connacht's discipline will have to be extremely good.

And if it is, Eric Elwood will be hoping history can repeat itself in Galway on Saturday.

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