Connacht meet the Toyota Cheetahs for the first time on Saturday looking for a fourth straight win in all competitions. The visitors saw off Zebre by a single point last weekend.
What’s at stake? A win for Connacht at the Sportsground would be a major boost as they look to close the gap to the Toyota Cheetahs who sit third in Conference A.
Connacht are eight points behind the Cheetahs after seven rounds but can more than half that deficit with a win and move themselves away from Zebre with whom they are level on points.
For the Cheetahs, a win could move them as high as second, above Munster, as they continue their chase of the unbeaten Conference A leaders Glasgow Warriors.
Team news (Connacht): Niyi Adeolokun makes his first start of the season alongside Tiernan O’Halloran and Darragh Leader in the back three. Craig Ronaldson partners Tom Farrell in the centres with Caolin Blade starting at scrum half.
In the pack Eoghan Masterson starts at blindside with Eoin McKeon at openside while captain John Muldoon wears the number 8 jersey. Quinn Roux joins James Cannon in the second row.
Team news (Toyota Cheetahs): Fred Zeilinga starts for the first time in the Guinness PRO14 at full-back for the Cheetahs in place of Sergeal Petersen who, with Raymond Rhule, joined the Stormers this week. Luther Obi replaces Rhule on the right wing.
Francois Venter and Oupa Mohoje are both called up to the Springboks making them unavailable. Jasper Wiese and Tertius Kruger are set for league debuts.
Talking points: Tom Farrell scored a vital try as Connacht beat Munster last weekend and is hoping the home crowd can see them over the line once again on Saturday.
“We have been steadily improving since the start of the season and we put together back to back wins in Europe and followed that up with a win against Munster last weekend,” he said.
“The atmosphere was fantastic in the Sportsground and the lift that the fans gave us made all the difference.
“But we will need to repeat that performance if we are to beat the Cheetahs on Saturday and go into the break with four wins in a row.”
Cheetahs coach Rory Duncan added: “We anticipate a tough game, Connacht has proven to be a team that has the ability to hold on to the ball and go through multiple phases.”
Key Battle: Niyi Adeolokun v Makazole Mapimpi
Adeolokun makes his long-awaited return for Connacht but will need to get up to speed quickly as he faces one of Guinness PRO14’s most in-form wingers.
It will be Adeolokun’s first appearance of the season as part of a strong-looking back three which includes O’Halloran and Leader.
Mapimpi though leads the way in the Guinness PRO14 try stakes so far this season with seven in as many rounds and has been a constant threat out wide for the Cheetahs.
Key Stat: Toyota Cheetahs have lost just one of their last five Guinness PRO14 matches: 26-29 at home to Glasgow on 6 October.
Did you know? Connacht Rugby have won their last three matches in all competitions since their 8-16 loss in Ulster in Round 6.
Connacht: T O’Halloran, D Leader, T Farrell, C Ronaldson, N Adeolokun, J Carty, C Blade, D Buckley, T McCartney, F Bealham, Q Roux, J Cannon, E Masterson, E McKeon, J Muldoon
Replacements: D Heffernan, D Coulson, C Carey, G Thornbury, N Dawai, C McKeon, S Crosbie, M Healy
Toyota Cheetahs: F Zeilinga; L Obi, T Kruger, N Lee, M Mapimpi, E Stapelberg, T Meyer, O Nche, T Van Jaarsveld, J Coetzee, C Wegner, H Reniel, P Schoeman, J Wiese, J Pokomela
Replacements: J Dweba, C Marais, T Botha, D Visser, R Bernardo, Z Mkhabela, A Mgijima, S Venter
TV: TG4: 7.15pm, SuperSport One: 9.30pm (SA)
Match officials – Referee: Frank Murphy (IRFU, 9th competition game), AR1: John Lacey (IRFU). AR2: Kieran Barry (IRFU), TMO: Leo Colgan (IRFU)
Guinness PRO14 Final 2018 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 for adults and €5 for children, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie
Niyi Adeolokun’s stunning try helped Connacht to their second Guinness PRO14 victory in a row against the Toyota Cheetahs.
The 27-year-old’s scintillating score along with Tom McCartney’s second half dot down ensured Connacht built on their 20-16 win over Munster with another victory.
Shaun Venter went over for the Cheetahs and Makazole Mapimpi’s late dot down in the corner set up a tense finish but they could not prevent a fourth defeat of the campaign.
In what was the first ever clash between the two sides, Connacht looked to assert their home advantage as Craig Ronaldson kicked over a penalty after five minutes.
Six minutes later, the Sportsground would see the game’s decisive moment as a free-flowing move found Adeolokun who was able to turn on the after-burners and beat two defenders with ease before going under the posts.
This was Adeolokun’s first start of the campaign and his try, along with a second Ronaldson penalty, kept Connacht out of the Cheetahs reach.
Cheetahs, who sat eight points clear of their Irish counterparts at the start of the night, struggled to impose themselves on the game with Ernst Stepelberg penalty on the stroke of half-time their only score in the first half.
The South African side edged out Zebre in their previous outing but their chance of a repeat diminished when McCartney went over 11 minutes into the second half.
Connacht built off of a good line-out and once again found Adeolokun out wide who was dealt with on this occasion by the Cheetahs but they couldn’t stop the ball finding its way to McCartney who went over with ease.
It may have taken until the 68th minute but the Cheetahs finally clicked into gear and got their first try of the night.
Connacht had been resilient in defence but Venter was able to break down their backline with an incisive break to bring the Southern Hemisphere side to within 12 points.
A Steve Crosbie penalty from the 10 metre line kept Connacht ticking over but a Cheetahs try five minutes from the end set up a nervy finish.
Mapimpi has loved his new life in the Guinness PRO14 and was on hand to dot down in the corner for his seventh try of the season and reduce the arrears to eight points.
In the end, eight points was too bigger gap to bridge in the final five minutes as Connacht made it two impressive victories on the spin.
Guinness PRO14 Final 2018 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 for adults and €5 for children, and can be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie