Glasgow Warriors will be looking for revenge as they set about keeping their PRO12 title defence alive at the home of Connacht on Saturday.
A 14-7 loss a fortnight ago at the Sportsground meant the Scots would not finish on top of the pile, leaving them with an away semi-final, which historically is a daunting prospect in the competition. Amazingly no outfit has yet to win on their travels at this knockout stage.
Glasgow definitely have what it takes to stop that rot though, and the return of second-row Leone Nakarawa from Sevens duty with Fiji will certainly help their cause. If he can replicate how he performed at this stage of the season in 2015 then the Warriors could well prevail.
In team news for the hosts, Galway man Eoin McKeon comes into the Connacht back-row and is the only change to the starting XV that played against the same opposition in Round 22 a fortnight ago.
John Muldoon captains the side from the base of the scrum in what will be the Portumna man’s 274th game for the province.
The backline remains unchanged with try scorer from the last game Bundee Aki and Ireland international Robbie Henshaw retained in midfield. April Player of the Month Niyi Adeolokun and the league’s top try scorer Matt Healy line out on the wings.
Andrew Browne is brought into the matchday squad and joins Sean O’Brien among the replacement forwards.
“We are under no illusions when it comes to the challenge we face against the defending champions Glasgow who are stacked with players with plenty of experience of test match and knock out rugby. We know they will be much stronger than they were two weeks ago but if we channel our physicality and the excitement into our game, we will be able to meet that challenge head on,” said head coach Pat Lam.
“It’s an exciting time for everyone involved in Connacht Rugby as we head into our first ever PRO12 semi-final. The reason we’ve had such a good record at home this season is the special atmosphere generated by our supporters and we’re all looking to give them another special day to remember in our last home game of the season.”
Meanwhile, centre Peter Horne will make his 100th appearance for Glasgow Warriors in Galway.
Following the defeat to the same opponents almost a fortnight ago, Stuart Hogg retains his place at full-back and Tommy Seymour continues on the right wing. After signing a new deal with the club last week, Sean Lamont makes his 99th appearance on the opposite flank, with Lee Jones not involved this weekend.
Mark Bennett replaces the injured Alex Dunbar to make his 50th appearance for the club at outside centre, while Horne reaches his century of appearances in the number 12 shirt.
Finn Russell continues at fly-half and forms a half-back partnership with Henry Pyrgos, who returns from injury and replaces Ali Price at scrum-half.
In the pack Gordon Reid and Fraser Brown continue at loosehead and hooker respectively, with Scotland international prop Zander Fagerson replacing the suspended Sila Puafisi at tighthead.
Nakarawa and captain Jonny Gray continue in the Glasgow engine room while in the back-row Ryan Wilson moves from openside to blindside flanker in place of Rob Harley, with Simone Favaro coming into the starting XV in the openside shirt and Josh Strauss continuing at number eight.
On the bench Ryan Grant returns from injury following a three-month spell on the sidelines, while D’arcy Rae, Adam Ashe, Duncan Weir and Taqele Naiyaravoro are also named in the matchday 23 this weekend.
Players to watch:
For Connacht: What a signing Bundee Aki has turned out to be by Connacht. He is a firm crowd favourite at the Sportsground and if he can carry and lead like he has done all season from inside centre, the hosts could well be heading to Murrayfield for the final.
For Glasgow: Back from Sevens duty with Fiji, this is where Leone Nakarawa can prove his worth to the Warriors. He will move on at the end of the season and there is no doubt he won’t want to say goodbye in Galway. He has his eyes on the PRO12 title again.
Head-to-head: We look at the outside centres here where international duo Robbie Henshaw and Mark Bennett collide. Both will no doubt think they should be on the plane with the British and Irish Lions next year and by rights they have good cases to get the nod. For now though it will be all about Saturday at the Sportsground where two willing runners are set for a great battle with ball in hand.
Form: The Sportsground becomes the eighth different venue to host a Guinness PRO12 Play-Off, no home team has ever been overturned in any of these encounters. Connacht are appearing in the Play-Offs for the first time having comfortably achieved their best ever finish, second, at the end of the regular season. Connacht’s last five matches in the Guinness PRO12 have all been won by the home side on the day, whilst their only defeat at home in any tournament this season was 3-10 to Ulster in the PRO12 on 26th December. Defending Champions Glasgow Warriors are bidding to become only the second side ever to retain their title after Leinster did so in 2014. The Scotsmen’s nine game winning run ended against the same opponents at the same venue in round 22. This is Warriors fifth successive appearance in the play-Offs and they are bidding to reach a third successive final. Connacht’s victory over Glasgow two weeks ago ended a run of eight successive Warriors wins in the fixture.
Prediction: Experience at this stage could well be key. Glasgow by 3.
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Matt Healy, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon (c), 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Eoin McKeon, 5 Aly Muldowney, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Ronan Loughney
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 JP Cooney, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Andrew Browne, 20 Sean O’Brien, 21 John Cooney, 22 Shane O’Leary, 23 Peter Robb
Glasgow: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Peter Horne, 11 Sean Lamont, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Henry Pyrgos, 8 Josh Strauss, 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Ryan Wilson, 5 Jonny Gray (c), 4 Leone Nakarawa, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Gordon Reid
Replacements: 16 Pat MacArthur, 17 Ryan Grant, 18 D’arcy Rae, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Adam Ashe, 21 Grayson Hart, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Taqele Naiyaravoro
Date: Saturday, May 21
Venue: The Sportsground
Kick-off: 18:30 BST (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR)
Assistant Referees: Nigel Owens (WRU) Stefano Penne (FIR)
TMO: Carlo Damasco (FIR)