Preview: Grenoble v Connacht

Date published: April 8 2016

Grenoble have heavily rotated their side for this weekend's Challenge Cup quarter-final against Connacht, with nine changes.

Gio Aplon, Chris Farrell and Jonathan Wisniewski all start in the backs.

Head coach Bernard Jackman has opted for two new flankers in the shape of Mahamadou Diaby and Steven Setephano, with Peter Kimlin shifting into the second row. 

Dayna Edwards, Loick Jammes, who signed a new contract this week, and Sona Taumalolo form an entirely new front row.

Meanwhile, Connacht head coach Pat Lam has made five personnel as well as seven positional changes from the side that lined out against Ulster in the PRO12 seven days ago.

Kieran Marmion and Danie Poolman are drafted into the back line with Matt Healy named to start at full-back for the second time this season. The former Ireland U20’s scrum-half, now wing, wore the number 15 shirt against Newcastle Falcons at the Sportsground back in December.

Healy’s move to full-back also allows Ireland international Robbie Henshaw rekindle his centre partnership with February’s Player of the Month Bundee Aki.

Shane O’Leary, who spent the 2013/14 season playing with Saturday’s French opponents, will make his third start for Connacht at outhalf, having lined out against Ulster last week and in December’s pool game away to Newcastle.

Up front, recent Ireland international debutants Finlay Bealham and Ultan Dillane start for the first time since their Six Nations involvement.

The back row is reshuffled and features three Galway-born players with Sean O’Brien from the Academy coming in to start at blindside flanker. Eoin McKeon once again moves to openside while John Muldoon captains the side wearing the number eight shirt.

From the bench, prop JP Cooney could make his first European appearance of the current campaign, having recovered from the shoulder injury that has kept him sidelined for most of the season. Quinn Roux and Fionn Carr are also added to this week’s match day squad.

Commenting on the team selection and the upcoming game, head coach Pat Lam said: “We have a few changes to the squad from last week but we are confident that we have a strong team to go over and execute our game plan against Grenoble. While it was great to welcome Kieran (Marmion) back from injury this week, it was frustrating to lose Jake (Heenan) who we had initially named to start. He was really unlucky to roll his other ankle in training which has ruled him out again.

“But we have a lot of confidence in the ability of Academy players Sean O’Brien and James Connolly who have the experience of performing in the jersey already this season. Playing in these big-stage games is fantastic for the continued development of all our players going forward.

“We understand the challenge we face traveling to play a confident Grenoble side in their home ground. But this is knock-out rugby and we are determined to bring a semi-final home to the Sportsground for our supporters.

“With two teams looking to play an attacking style of rugby, it will come down to the small margins in defence and who can take their opportunities. It’s set up to be a really entertaining game and we’re really looking forward to it.” 

Form: The clubs have met before in the Challenge Cup, with Connacht winning both legs in the 2005 quarter-finals. Connacht have won only one of their last seven knockout fixtures in the Challenge Cup, although that sole victory was against Top 14 opposition (Bourgoin in 2010). Grenoble have won their last five straight matches, a sixth straight win would double their previous best streak in European competition. Connacht were defeated in their last two away fixtures in the Challenge Cup – the last time they lost three away games in a Challenge Cup campaign was in 2006/07. Connacht have won seven of their last eight matches against Top 14 opponents in the Challenge Cup, though their last match against a French club was a 21-18 defeat by Brive in Round 5. Grenoble won all their home games in the pool stage for the first time in their Challenge Cup history. However, they conceded 154 points, the most of any team to make it through to the knockout stage.  Connacht conceded only two tries in the first half of matches during the pool stage the fewest of any team in the competition. At 89 percent, Grenoble are the most accurate goalkicking side in the campaign to date and they are 10% more accurate than the next best remaining club (Gloucester – 79 percent). Gilles Bosch successfully slotted all 11 of his kicks at goal in the pool stage, the most of any player not to miss a kick at goal.

The teams:

Grenoble: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Tino Nemani, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Nigel Hunt, 11 Lucas Dupont, 10 Jonathan Wisniewski, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Rory Grice, 7 Mahamadou Diaby, 6 Steven Setephano, 5 Peter Kimlin, 4 Ben Hand, 3 Dayna Edwards, 2 Loick Jammes, 1 Sona Taumalolo
Replacements: 16 Paulin Mas, 17 Fabien Barcella, 18 Rossouw de Klerk, 19 Mathias Marie, 20 Fabien Alexandre, 21 Lilian Saseras, 22 Fabrice Estebanez, 23 Fabien Gengenbacher

Connacht: 15 Matt Healy, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Danie Poolman, 10 Shane O'Leary, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon, 7 Eoin McKeon, 6 Sean O’Brien, 5 Andrew Browne, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley
Replacements: 16 David Heffernan, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 JP Cooney, 19 Quinn Roux, 20 James Connolly, 21 John Cooney, 22 Peter Robb, 23 Fionn Carr

Date: Saturday, April 9
Venue: Stade des Alpes
Kick-off: 20:05 BST (19:05 GMT)
Referee: Matthew Carley (England)
Assistant Referees: Greg Garner (England), Craig Maxwell-Keys (England)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)