Wednesday 22 November 2017

Glasgow's Six Nations stars back for Connacht

Finlay Bealham, Bundee Aki, and Tom McCartney during training. Photo: Sportsfile
Finlay Bealham, Bundee Aki, and Tom McCartney during training. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

This time last year, Connacht were about to embark on their greatest journey but a year on the picture has changed utterly.

Next week's trip to face Zebre aside, the western province face a hellish run-in before they bid farewell to Pat Lam and welcome Kieran Keane and if they are still a top-tier European team at the end of it all they'll have earned it.

Currently seventh with five games remaining, they are still play ing catch-up after their dreadful start to their title defence.

Glasgow Warriors are in sixth and a win at Scotstoun tonight can see the champions move into range, but even if they finish above the Scots at the end of the season sixth place won't be enough because of EPCR rules that dictate each country must have a representative in next year's tournament.

While the Irish Six Nations front-liners have been given the weekend off there is no such messing about from Gregor Townsend who pitches Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell and Ali Price back into the starting XV, while Fraser Brown and Alex Dunbar are on the bench.

It's a formidable proposition for the Connacht side who travel without some established figures, but have some quality in the starting side with Bundee Aki a reassuring presence in the midfield.

Kieran Marmion will hope for a form bounce after coping so well against Wales and England in recent weeks, while Tiernan O'Halloran has plenty to prove after failing to make an impression on the Irish match-day 23 throughout the Six Nations.

With so many players out injured, Connacht's depth is a concern and Stacey Ili's defensive frailties on the left wing are ripe for Russell and Hogg to exploit.

The Irish side have never won in Scotstoun and while they have a huge game on the horizon next week and are integrating a host of internationals back, the home side know that to get back into the play-off hunt they need a result.

"We know there is little room for error as we look towards the business end of the season but all we can do is focus," Lam said.

At home on their synthetic pitch, they will back their running game to create openings in the Connacht rear-guard, while the visitors' attack has not hummed in the same way this time around.

If Connacht are to get back into Europe, they'll need some big results but this one looks a step too far unless they can somehow find the form of a year ago.

Verdict: Glasgow

GLASGOW WARRIORS - S Hogg; S Lamont, N Grigg, P Horne (capt), R Hughes; F Russell, A Price; A Allan, C Flynn, S Puafisi; T Swinson, B Alainu'uese; R Harley, M Smith, A Ashe. Reps: F Brown, G Reid, D Rae, S Cummings, L Wynne, G Horne, A Dunbar, P Murchie.
CONNACHT - T O'Halloran; N Adeolokun, B Aki, C Ronaldson, S Ili; J Carty, K Marmion; D Buckley, T McCartney, F Bealham; Q Roux, A Browne; S O'Brien, J Heenan, J Muldoon (capt). Reps: D Heffernan, R Loughney, D Robertson-McCoy, J Cannon, N Dawai, J Cooney, T Farrell, J Rowland.
Ref - I Davies (WRU)
Glasgow Warriors v Connacht Live Sky Sports 2, 5.15

Irish Independent

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