Preview: Wasps v Connacht

Date published: December 9 2016

Wallaby signing Kurtley Beale is set to make his Wasps and European Champions Cup debut when they host Connacht at the Ricoh Arena on Sunday.

This is Beale’s comeback match following a seven-month lay-off due to a knee injury.

Wasps are also boosted by the return of England internationals Joe Launchbury and Nathan Hughes, who are the only changes to the pack that started against Worcester last Sunday.

Christian Wade returns from a foot injury to start on the right wing, with Josh Bassett lining up on the left. Dan Robson and Jimmy Gopperth form the half back partnership, while Beale starts at inside centre, alongside Alapati Leiua, in Wasps’ midfield combination.

Rob Miller returns to his more familiar position of full-back, having impressed last week at fly-half when he stood in for Danny Cipriani, who is still sidelined by a calf injury.

Ahead of the first leg of back-to-back games against Connacht, Wasps’ Director of Rugby Dai Young said: “We’re really excited about playing Connacht, the defending Pro 12 Champions.

“They’re a quality side, with threats throughout, and I’m a huge fan of the way they play the game. They probably kick the least out of any European team and they will certainly test our defence. We won’t be able to switch off for a second. Hopefully, if we keep our defence structured, hungry and energised, we can force a few mistakes as well.

“We’re not looking too far down the road at this stage, the only thing we are concentrating on is getting our home game right at the Ricoh Arena on Sunday. In this competition, if you get your home game wrong, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re out, but it does put you under a lot of pressure. So it’s a massive game for us at the Ricoh Arena this Sunday.

“We go into the game in a good place, after what for me was one of our best wins of the season, because of the way the squad stuck together and worked for each other. They responded really well to the injuries we had picked up. It’s great to welcome back our captain Joe Launchbury and Nathan Hughes, who did really well on his first start for England last weekend.

“We’re also all very excited to have Kurtley Beale back fit and raring to go, although I suspect no one is more excited than Kurtley himself! I’ve been really impressed with his work ethic since he arrived. He’s worked his socks off to get back and he’s fitted in brilliantly with the squad. We all know how talented a player he is, but he’s also very humble and keen to develop further, which makes him a pleasure to work with.

“It was important to wait until he was feeling confident in his knee and his fitness, and it’s great he’s in that place now after being back in training with the squad for three weeks. It will naturally take him a bit of time to get up to speed with our patterns and to return to match-sharpness after a while out, so we’ll be patient on that front, but he’s looked hugely skillful in training and we’re all excited to have him back and ready to play for Wasps.”

Meanwhile, Connacht head coach Pat Lam has made four personnel changes from the side that registered a bonus point win over Treviso in the PRO12 six days ago.

Ireland international Niyi Adeolokun returns this week and starts on the right wing, shifting Cian Kelleher over to the left. Kieran Marmion also returns to start in the number 9 shirt while Jack Carty is restored at outhalf.

Up front, Ultan Dillane returns for his first game since international duty in the November Test Series. Last week’s Man of the Match Tom McCartney will earn his 50th Connacht cap when he runs out in Coventry on Sunday.

Finlay Bealham and Peter are both named among the replacements.

Commenting on the team selection and upcoming game, Lam said: “It’s great to see the return of our internationals who all contributed to a successful and historic Autumn Series for Ireland. They all add to the competition for places which is making our selection meetings even longer.

“The back-to-back window in Champions Cup is always the most testing and the draw hasn’t let us down with this match-up with an in-form Wasps’ side. They are flying high in the Premiership and have not lost a game at home in 2016. To be involved in this type of fixture is exactly what we worked so hard for last year. We are excited by the challenge and opportunity to test ourselves against one of the best teams in Europe.”

Form: Wasps face a tough a tough task against the PRO12 champions who are also sitting pretty at the top of Pool Two after two rounds of matches. The home side are in second place, two points adrift after notching an impressive 82-14 victory over Zebre in Round One before Toulouse held them to a 20-20 draw at Stade Ernest Wallon in the next round. Connacht grinded out a narrow 23-21 win over Toulouse in Galway in Round One before claiming a deserved 52-7 triumph over Zebre at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in their second fixture. This will be these teams’ first ever encounter in this competition.

The teams:

Wasps: 15 Rob Miller, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Alapati Leiua, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Dan Robson, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Thomas Young, 6 Ashley Johnson, 5 Kearnan Myall, 4 Joe Launchbury (c), 3 Marty Moore, 2 Tommy Taylor, 1 Matt Mullan
Replacements: 16 Alex Rieder, 17 Tom Bristow, 18 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 19 James Gaskell, 20 Guy Thompson, 21 Joe Simpson, 22 Brendan Macken, 23 Frank Halai

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Stacey Ili, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Cian Kelleher, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon (c), 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Nepia Fox-Matamua, 5 Quinn Roux, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Conor Carey, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 JP Cooney, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Sean O’Brien, 20 Eoin McKeon, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Rory Parata, 23 Peter Robb

Date: Sunday, December 11
Venue: Ricoh Arena
Kick-off: 13:00 GMT
Referee: Alexandre Ruiz (France)
Assistant Referees: Cédric Marchat (France), Cédric Clave (France)
TMO: Philippe Bonhoure (France)