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ERCC: Toulouse v Connacht Preview
Our in-house rugby scribe gives his verdict on Sunday’s Pool 2 European Rugby Champions Cup clash between group leaders Connacht and third-placed Toulouse.
It’s all to play for at the Stade Ernest Wallon this Sunday with only four points separating pool leaders Connacht and third-placed Toulouse. The visitors have been hard hit by injuries and will field a weakened squad for this vital clash, while the hosts have an almost entirely clean bill of health despite having played the majority of their home games on a pitch that resembles the Somme region in 1916.
This game is unlikely to resemble trench warfare, however, as both teams have exciting backlines who are capable of running in some mouth-watering five-pointers.
Toulouse v Connacht | Sunday 22 January | Stade Ernest Wallon | 17:10
To Win (80 Mins)
Toulouse 1/8 | Draw 28/1 | Connacht 47/10
It’s been a bit of a strange tournament for Ugo Mola’s men, who opened their campaign with a two-point defeat to this weekend’s opponents. They then drew 20-20 with Dai Young’s electric Wasps side, and followed that up with their first victory of the campaign; a 30 point rout of the pool whipping boys, Zebre. They bettered that resulted when they took on Zebre in the return leg running out 54-15 victors on their own patch. The two bonus point wins over Zebre have effectively kept the French side in the hunt, as they went down by three points to Wasps in their round five fixture out in Coventry.
The equation is quite simple for Toulouse, if they are to progress to the next round they have to win this game with a four try bonus point and ensure that Connacht don’t claim a bonus point in the process. And while the Connacht side that will take to the Stade Ernest Wallon will be a weakened contingent, it must be remembered that the Irish club is currently second on the tournament’s tries for table.
Mola is likely to field an almost identical starting XV to the one that went down to Wasps last week. The Toulouse mentor will be hoping for another solid showing from his forward pack who were extremely dominant against Wasps last week. He will also hope fly-half Jean Marc-Doussain packs his kicking boots as the French international has put in a few horror shows with the boot this term.
The plucky little team from Ireland has once again punched above their weight and currently top the Pool 2 standings. They have given themselves a terrific chance of making it through to the knockout phase of the competition for the first time in the history of the club.
Key to Connacht’s rise to prominence has been the performances of scrum-half, Kieran Marmion. The 24-year-old managed to get his name on the try scorers list against Zebre last week. He formed part of a somewhat makeshift 9/10 pairing with fellow nine John Cooney filling in at fly-half due to incumbent 10, Jack Carty, being injured.
Carty is said to have a fifty percent chance of being available for this game. But if he is unable to pass a late fitness test, Cooney will likely fill the role once again. Carty isn’t the only player said to be touch and go for this one with props Denis Buckley, Ronan Loughney and flanker Quinn Roux all facing a race against time to prove their fitness.
Connacht haven’t been shy of giving the ball some air during the group phase, and I suspect they’ll take an attacking approach into this one as a four-try bonus point would assure their place in the knockout phase.
Verdict: Connacht 47/10
The Irish club have upset the applecart so many times this season. They’ve been an absolute treat to bet on, netting some massive returns for those who have backed them. I fancy them to payout once again as French sides tend to go to pieces when under pressure to qualify for the next round of these European tournaments. I wouldn’t stake the monthly wages on it, but a 40 rand punt could prove rather profitable.