3 key battles Connacht must win against Saracens tonight
PAT LAM FACES his most difficult task yet tonight when last season’s semi-finalists Saracens come in search of a win to kick-start another shot at the title.
The Sportsground will be hounding them every step of the way in the hope that the western provice can avoid a fifth consecutive defeat.
To do that, the’ll have to win most of the head-to-heads on the field, but here are three key areas Connacht need to go their way.
THESE ARE THE games that Super Rugby champion Craig Clarke was brought to Ireland to influence.
The Kiwi’s primary job will be stopping the visitors at source and while the direct confrontation of the scrum may hold little reward for Connacht, he will aim to disrupt the line-out at every opportunity.
Doing that means stopping Borthwick makes the calls at set-piece time and is also the primary receiver with 42 line-out takes (including steals) in the seven European outings before the semi-final defeat to Toulon.
Jake Heenan v Will Fraser
For Connacht, this game is all about punching about punching above their weight, in every sense.
Personifying that effort will be their bright spark at number seven, Jake Heenan. The former junior All Black has showed glimpses of breakdown brilliance in his short time out west and if Pat Lam’s side stand any chance of causing an upset, they will need him to get the better of Will Fraser on the deck.
Slowing the ball down won’t be enough to thwart Sarries bruising pack, but if he can lend his expertise to create turnovers and give clean ball in attack, then the home side’s back-line are capable of causing havoc in disjointed phases.
James So’oialo v Chris Wyles
Samoan international James So’oialo makes his Connacht debut as an inside centre opposite another man who made his name in the back three.
The American has formed a steady centre pairing with Joel Tomkins this season, but still should be marked out as a weakness in an otherwise imposing Saracen unit.
Wyles smashed by Aureliene Rougerie. ©INPHO/Andrew Fosker
So’oialo’s selection at number 12 would hint that Pat Lam isn’t too concerned about attacking from deep with the ball in hand. The Samoan will run hard and straight in the hope of creating a gap for Robbie Henshaw or Fionn Carr.
Connacht: Gavin Duffy; Fionn Carr, Robbie Henshaw, James So’oialo, Danie Poolman; Dan Parks, Kieran Marmion; Brett Wilkinson, Sean Henry, Rodney Ah You, Michael Swift (capt), Craig Clarke, John Muldoon, Jake Heenan, George Naoupu.
Replacements: Jason Harris-Wright, Peter Reilly, JP Cooney, Aly Muldowney, Andrew Browne, Paul O’Donohoe, Craig Ronaldson, Tiernan O’Halloran.
Saracens: Alex Goode; Chris Ashton, Joel Tomkins, Chris Wyles, David Strettle; Owen Farrell, Neil de Kock; Mako Vunipola, Schalk Brits, Matt Stevens, Steve Borthwick (capt), George Kruis, Kelly Brown, Will Fraser, Billy Vunipola.
Replacements: Jamie George, Rhys Gill, James Johnston, Alistair Hargreaves, Ernst Joubert, Richard Wigglesworth, Duncan Taylor, Michael Tagicakibau.