Connacht’s front line players likely to start for Harlequins’ challenge

Connacht renew their rivalry with English premiership outfit Harlequins on Saturday (6.30pm ) when the two sides meet in a challenge at the Galway Sportsground.

The second of a series of four pre-season games, Connacht can expect to field a changed starting XV from that which lost to Leeds last weekend by 24 - 17.

Coach Michael Bradley has already stated that players who were involved in the Churchill Cup and in the national side over the summer will be available for selection in the hopes that the majority of the Connacht panel will have been in action over these first two weekends.

As a result Irish squad member Gavin Duffy, A players Johnny O’Connor, Ian Keatley, Frank Murphy, and Sean Cronin will likely start - with Keatley and Cronin winning their Connacht caps, in addition to the more experienced personnel - Mel Deane, Keith Matthews, Colm Rigney, Brett Wilkinson, Robbie Morris, Michael Swift, and captain John Muldoon.

The team will have the look of a first-choice selection in the expectation that Harlequins will produce a stronger challenge than Leeds last weekend.

That game saw Connacht lose by 24 - 17, but a strong first-half performance had Connacht in front at the break by 10 - 7 with a try from prop Brian McGovern and a penalty and conversion from Andy Dunne. Dunne opened as sprightly as he did in last year’s pre-season, confident with his line and goal kicking, and with Tim Donnelly injured, it will be interesting how the promising Keatley plays on Saturday. Troy Nathan is one of four outhalves in the squad, and Bradley could well try to find another position for this talented footballer, who covered both fullback and centre against Leeds during the second half.

There was also a new start for winger Mike Roberts, who looked impressive in both attack and defence until forced off with a shoulder injury, and Bradley may want to look at Roberts again on Saturday if he is injury free.

The pack, as always, were competitive, although they struggled at times against the big Leeds pack, but if Brett Wilkinson and Robbie Morris are available this week, Connacht are likely to field a new front row with Sean Cronin coming in for his first cap.

Harlequins overcame Connacht last year at the Stoop in a pre-season challenge by 31 - 8. However they will be travelling a little light this weekend. According to assistant coach John Kingston, formerly Galwegians coach, the squad will be without their international and Saxon players who have been training this week with England.

“We also have the Middlesex 7s on Saturday so there will be a few left at home. We are therefore bringing quite a young squad over,” he says.

That said, they are still likely to boast a premiership pack that will provide a good test for Connacht. However, it is the performance of the Connacht backs that will be the focus of considerable scrutiny, particularly a likely halfback partnership of Keatley and Frank Murphy, in addition to Roberts, if fit, and a possible first start for Liam Bibo.

Connacht (possible ): G Duffy, L Bibo, M Deane, K Matthews, M Roberts, I Keatley, F Murphy, B Wilkinson, S Cronin, R Morris, M Swift, A Farley, J Muldoon (cpt ), J O’Connor, C Rigney. Replacements, J Hearty, T Nathan, A Wynne, K Campbell, A Dunne, A Flavin, J Lyne, B McGovern, R Loughney, A Browne, M McCarthy, R Ofisa. Injured: C O’Loughlin, T Donnelly, F Carr, D Gannon, J Merrigan, D Riordan.

•Connacht Rugby is holding a fundraiser immediately after the Connacht v Harlequins match and all patrons are invited to stay for dog racing with proceeds going towards Connacht Rugby's stadium development plan, which includes the gymnasium, currently being completed, and an all-weather pitch and proposed covering of the terrace.

Tickets are priced €20 and include entry to the stadium, race card, and aBuster Race ticket. All tickets are automatically entered into the draw to win €1,500 or one of five lucky dips prizes of €100 each.

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