Preview – Emirates Lions Need To Beat Connacht If They Want To Reach URC Playoffs


The Emirates Lions will enter their match against Connacht at The Sportsground with confidence after their encouraging 30-25 away win against the Dragons in the EPCR Challenge Cup last week, which cemented their place in the playoffs.

They will also be mindful of the fact that they are well within range for a Vodacom URC playoff spot if they deliver the desired results in the next few weeks, especially given that they are only six points below Edinburgh on the log.

Adding to this, they are only one behind Connacht, who have played an extra match, with the sides currently level on five wins apiece.

The Emirates Lions will expect a tough challenge with Connacht having won three of their last four matches in Galway, while the Gauteng side is on a three-match losing streak in the competition. But the visitors will draw inspiration from the fact that they have won more matches away from home this season.

Prediction: Connacht Rugby by 7

Having missed last week’s trip to Newcastle through injury, Jack Carty returns to captain the Connacht. The flyhalf could make history in the game as he needs six points to equal Eric Elwood’s all-time points scoring record of 1152 points for the province.

Scrum-half Caolin Blade is named alongside him while Cathal Forde and Tom Farrell are named at the inside and outside centre respectively. Tiernan O’Halloran lines out at full-back for his 215th Connacht appearance with John Porch and Diarmuid Kilgallen on the wings.

The pack sees the Murray brothers Darragh and Niall paired together in the second row, while props Peter Dooley and Jack Aungier come in alongside hooker Shane Delahunt. Josh Murphy moves from the second row to blindside flanker, while Conor Oliver and Jarrad Butler are retained at 7 and 8.

Commenting on the team selection, Director of Rugby Andy Friend says:

“Tomorrow marks the end of a long block of games for us and one we want to finish on a high. If we get the win we head into the next block well in the running for a playoff spot – while achieving our aim of reaching the Challenge Cup knockouts – so it’s not a bad spot to be in.

We’re fully aware however that we need a win tomorrow to put ourselves in that position. The Lions are a formidable outfit and have improved even more since their first season last year, so we know a difficult challenge awaits us.”

The Emirates Lions made three changes to their starting line-up. Notable changes see flanker Sibusiso Sangweni slot into the six jumper with Stean Pienaar getting his opportunity on the right wing, with Quan Horn moving to fullback.

Emirates Lions Defence Coach Jaque Fourie said “Looking back at last week’s game, it’s important for us ahead of Connacht to put together two good halves and start playing positive rugby again.”

Fourie is familiar with Saturday’s venue having played at the Sportsground in Galway for the Springboks in 2007 ahead for the Rugby World Cup.

“Playing in Galway, especially in these conditions will be tough- it’s going to take 23-man effort to achieve a positive result for us. We’ve had a look at the Connacht side, and we know they are a tough side at home. The goal is to come out firing and as I said, put together two good halves of rugby and hopefully beat them on Saturday night.”

Fourie likens playing in these types of conditions to test match rugby where a different approach is required, and Saturday against Connacht will most likely be the case.

“It’s almost like playing test rugby, explains the former Bok centre. You have to take your chances; you need to grab your points and build scoreboard pressure. Of course, playing in the right areas of the field becomes important. At times, you’ll face winds of around 30km/h which makes kicking into the wind difficult meaning teams need to keep the ball for longer phases,” he concludes.


Connacht: 15. Tiernan O’Halloran, 14. Diarmuid Kilgallen, 13. Tom Farrell, 12. Cathal Forde, 11. John Porch, 10. Jack Carty (c), 9. Caolin Blade, 8. Jarrad Butler, 7. Conor Oliver, 6. Josh Murphy, 5. Niall Murray, 4. Darragh Murray, 3. Jack Aungier, 2. Shane Delahunt, 1. Peter Dooley. Replacements: 16. Dylan Tierney-Martin, 17. Jordan Duggan, 18. Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 19. Leva Fifita, 20. Shamus Hurley-Langton, 21. Kieran Marmion, 22. Tom Daly, 23. Oran McNulty

Emirates Lions: 15. Quan Horn, 14. Stean Pienaar, 13. Henco van Wyk, 12. Marius Louw (c), 11. Edwill van der Merwe, 10. Jordan Hendrikse, 9. André Warner, 8. Emmanuel Tshituka, 7. Emile van Heerden, 6. Sibusiso Sangweni, 5. Darrian Landsberg, 4. Willem Alberts, 3. Asenathi Ntlabakanye, 2. PJ Botha, 1. JP Smith. Replacements: 16. Michael van Vuuren, 17. Morgan Naude, 18. Ruan Smith, 19. Pieter Jansen van Vuren, 20. Jaco Kriel, 21. Morné van den Berg, 22. Manuel Rass, 23. Andries Coetzee.