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Preview: Connacht v Saracens

10th October 2013 12:36

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Saracens face a potentially tricky start to their Heineken Cup campaign on Friday as they visit Connacht at the Galway Sportsground.

The Premiership side are considered contenders for the European crown, reaching the semi-final stage last season, but their director of rugby Mark McCall has warned that Friday's trip provides a tough first-round fixture for Sarries.

"I know from experience that we have one of the trickiest starts you could ask for in Galway," McCall told the ERC website.

"That's not just opinion, the facts speak for themselves. Over the last three years, Connacht have beaten Biarritz and Harlequins in Galway so unless you take your A-game and have the right mindset, you will get the same result those teams did.

"There is always a great crowd in Galway, they have good players and a top coach in Pat Lam and have recruited really well, that's why they get the scalps they have."

For Connacht, lock Michael Swift returns to the starting line-up for Friday's clash.

The province's highest capped player will captain his side in the Heineken Cup Pool 3 clash. Head coach Pat Lam has made a number of changes to the side that started against Treviso last week.

Rodney Ah You, on what will be his 50th appearance for the province, will start at tighthead prop and is joined in the front-row by Brett Wilkinson and hooker Sean Henry.

Galway man John Muldoon is named in the back-row at blindside flanker, making his ninth Heineken Cup appearance for Connacht.

In the backs, Fionn Carr moves to the right wing, allowing Danie Poolman to start on the left. Irish international Robbie Henshaw returns to outside centre this week and partners new signing James So'oialo who makes his debut at the Sportsground.

There is cover from the replacements bench in the form of hooker Jason Harris-Wright who returns from injury. Connacht Academy and former Ireland U20 prop Peter Reilly could make his debut.

Meanwhile for Saracens, Will Fraser retains his place at openside flanker with George Kruis continuing at lock forward as the English make six changes to the starting pack.

Owen Farrell returns at fly-half, with Alex Goode reverting to his more accustomed full-back role. Chris Wyles and Joel Tomkins continue to partner each other in the centres, and David Strettle returns to the left wing.

"We have got to be right mentally and physically. Connacht really step it up in this competition - I know that from my experiences in Ireland," said McCall.

"It's a really good, passionate atmosphere there and we have to be on our game - but having to grind out a victory against Wasps will not have done us any harm.

The teams:

Connacht: 15 Gavin Duffy, 14 Fionn Carr, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 James So'oialo, 11 Danie Poolman, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 George Naoupu, 7 Jake Heenan, 6 John Muldoon, 5 Craig Clarke, 4 Michael Swift (c), 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Sean Henry, 1 Brett Wilkinson.
Replacements: 16 Jason Harris-Wright, 17 Peter Reilly, 18 JP Cooney, 19 Aly Muldowney, 20 Andrew Brown, 21 Paul O'Donohoe, 22 Craig Ronaldson, 23 Tiernan O'Halloran

Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 12 Joel Tomkins, 12 Chris Wyles, 11 David Strettle, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Neil de Kock, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Will Fraser, 6 Kelly Brown, 5 George Kruis, 4 Steve Borthwick (c), 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Schalk Britz, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 James Johnston, 19 Alastair Hargreaves, 20 Ernst Joubert, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Duncan Taylor, 23 Michael Tagicakibau.

Date: Friday, October 11th
Venue: Galway Sportsground
Kick-off: 20:00 BST (19.00 GMT)
Referee: Pascal Gauzere (FFR)

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