Monday 23 July 2018

Daunting task as Jackman rolls out big guns

Bernard Jackman. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Bernard Jackman. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

An uphill battle at the Stade des Alpes. Connacht's end-of-season credentials will be put to the test in Grenoble tonight as they face a quality outfit in good form, coached by a man who knows them well.

The arrival of one of the provinces for a European Challenge Cup quarter-final sees Bernard Jackman name his strongest possible side.

This tournament represents the Carlow native's club's best route to next season's Champions Cup, while the attention from Ireland means this is an opportunity for the up-and-coming coach to remind the administrators back home of the good work he's been doing.

Both sides share a similar approach to the game and, with the forecast good for the late kick-off (9.05 local, 8.05 Irish time), the omens are good for an open, free-flowing game.

The western province are Ireland's remaining standard bearers in Europe this season and, with the Pro12 going according to plan, have a free shot at a home semi-final against either Harlequins or London Irish.

Pat Lam must do without Jake Heenan who re-injured his ankle during training this week, meaning Eoin McKeon reverts to openside with Sean O'Brien on the opposite flank and John Muldoon at No 8.

Kieran Marmion's return is a boost, while Matt Healy's deployment at full-back is an interesting move that brings Robbie Henshaw's influence into the centre alongside the always-dangerous Bundee Aki.

Chris Farrell is the only one of Grenoble's Irish contingent to get the nod and he will play a big role in the centre, while Springbok Gio Aplon is the home side's major threat. Connacht will need to be mindful of their discipline, with Jonathan Wisniewski accurate off the tee.

It's a big test for Shane O'Leary on his return to a club where he spent a year. He did well against Ulster, but the stakes for Connacht's No 10 are huge.

Heenan's absence denies Lam an out-and-out No 7 and compounds the absence of Nathan White, Jack Carty and a host of others. O'Brien, McKeon and Muldoon have a big job on their hands, but if they can disrupt the hosts' ball then they can thrive on attack.

The long injury list makes Grenoble-bound lock Aly Muldowney's non-selection all the harder to fathom. A heavy workload is the official line; Ultan Dillane makes a good replacement but Muldowney has been excellent all year.

Still, Lam believes those selected can get the job done. Connacht have been defying the odds all season. If they can take a result in Grenoble, it will be up there with anything they've achieved so far.

Verdict: Grenoble

Grenoble - G Aplon; T Nemani, C Farrell, N Hunt, L Dupont; J Wisniewski, C McLeod; S Taumalolo, L Jammes, D Edwards; B Hand (capt), P Kimlin; S Setaphano, M Diaby, R Grice. Reps: P Mas, F Barcella, R de Klerk, M Marle, F Alexandre, L Saseras, F Estebanez, F Gengenbacher.

Connacht - M Healy; N Adeolokun, R Henshaw, B Aki, D Poolman; S O'Leary, K Marmion; D Buckley, T McCartney, F Bealham; U Dillane, A Browne; S O'Brien, E McKeon, J Muldoon (capt). Reps: D Heffernan, R Loughney, JP Cooney, Q Roux, J Connolly, J Cooney, P Robb, F Carr.

Ref - M Carley (England)

Irish Independent

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