Preview: Gloucester v Connacht

Date published: April 2 2015

Connacht head coach Pat Lam has made four personnel changes to his side to face Gloucester in Friday's quarter-final of the Challenge Cup.

Ireland international and Six Nations winner Robbie Henshaw returns to the fray and is named at inside centre in a partnership with the competition's top try-scorer Danie Poolman.

Tiernan O'Halloran shifts to the right wing to facilitate Mils Muliaina who is reinstated at full-back after missing out last week with injury.

Up front, South African Quinn Roux is named in a second row with Aly Muldowney. There's also a reshuffle in the back row as Andrew Browne, whose new deal for next season was announced this week, starts at blindside flanker. Captain John Muldoon will wear the number eight shirt in what will be his sixth Challenge Cup quarter-final.

Replacements JP Cooney, James Connolly and Ian Porter have all been called into the matchday squad while Craig Ronaldson has recovered from the illness that ruled him out late of last week's game to take his place on the bench.

"Playing a quarter-final in any competition is massive and to be involved in knockout rugby at this stage of the season is what everyone wants," said Lam.

"There's no doubt that going into the cauldron that is Kingsholm is a challenge for any team. Top seeds Gloucester are a side with quality internationals and a lot of experience.

"But we have worked hard to get here and with a home semi final up for grabs, we’re looking forward to facing that challenge head on as a team."

Meanwhile, Gloucester make five changes to their starting line-up from last weekend.

With a semi-final spot on the line, there are three changes to the backline and two in the pack from the side that started at Sale Sharks last Sunday.

In the backs, Steve McColl, Bill Meakes and Greig Laidlaw return in place of Billy Burns, Brendan Macken and Callum Braley respectively.

Up front, Dan Murphy comes in for Nick Wood while Tom Savage moves into the second row from blindside flanker, with Gareth Evans returning at number eight as Sione Kalamafoni moves to the flank in place of Savage.

Gloucester qualified as number one seeds from the pool stages, having won all six of their fixtures. However, it's now knockout rugby and there are no second chances against a Connacht side who will provide resolute opposition according to director of rugby, David Humphreys.

"Our big performances this year have been in Europe, having qualified as number one seeds. We managed to raise our game every time we needed to in Europe," he said.

"This is a huge challenge for us. I think Connacht have been resurgent over the course of the past 18 months. They've been getting better and better under Pat Lam, so they're going to be a big test for us.

"They've been very good this year. At different stages they've performed very well and beaten some of the big teams. They've always based their game around bringing a real physical edge to every team they play against.

"They've moved past that. They've now got a good squad with real depth and, despite having a couple of injuries at the moment, can bring in players who can compete at PRO12 level.

"But we know with the team that we have, that if we can reproduce some of the form that we've shown at different stages in the Premiership, but particularly in Europe, we'll have a good night on Friday night."

The teams:

Gloucester: 15 Stevie McColl, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Bill Meakes, 12 Billy Twelvetrees (c), 11 Jonny May, 10 James Hook, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Sione Kalafamoni, 5 Tom Palmer, 4 Tom Savage, 3 John Afoa, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Dan Murphy.
Replacements: 16 Darren Dawiduik, 17 Nick Wood, 18 Sila Puafisi, 19 James Hudson, 20 Ross Moriarty, 21 Dan Robson, 22 Billy Burns, 23 Henry Purdy.

Connacht: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Tiernan O'Halloran, 13 Danie Poolman, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon (c), 7 Eoghan Masterson, 6 Andrew Browne, 5 Aly Muldowney, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 JP Cooney, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Mick Kearney, 20 James Connolly, 21 Ian Porter, 22 Craig Ronaldson, 23 Darragh Leader.

Date: Friday, April 3
Kick-off: 19:45 local
Venue: Kingsholm
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant referees: Cédric Marchat (France), Thomas Charabas (France)