Connacht have the chance to close the ground on Glasgow Warriors in Conference A as the two sides go head to head in Round 16 of the Guinness PRO14 on Friday night.
Warriors welcome the Irish province to Scotstoun after both picked up important victories last weekend in their quest to secure their place in the Guinness PRO14 Final Series.
What’s at stake?
Glasgow held off a dramatic late rally from Cardiff Blues last time out as they claimed a 38-34 bonus-point victory at Arms Park to keep the pressure up on Munster in Conference A.
Dave Rennie’s men are just two points behind Munster at the top of the conference, but they hold a comfortable nine-point lead over fellow Irish province Connacht.
Connacht can cut the deficit with a victory in Glasgow, though, having come from behind to defeat Toyota Cheetahs 25-17 in Round 15 thanks to an inspired Jack Carty.
Having dropped points to Cardiff Blues and Munster in their previous two Guinness PRO14 games, it was a welcome victory and they will be hoping to back it up against Warriors.
Team news (Glasgow Warriors)
George Horne returns from injury to start for Warriors against Connacht, having been sidelines since his side’s Champions Cup clash against Saracens earlier this season.
He will partner Brandon Thomson at half-back, with the 23-year-old fly-half fresh from signing a new two-year contract with the club, while Paddy Kelly comes into the midfield.
It will be Kelly’s first Warriors start and he joins a familiar face in the centre in Stafford McDowall, who he played alongside regularly for Ayr in the Tennent’s Premiership.
Elsewhere, Niko Matawalu has successfully passed his return to play protocols and will start in the back three with Ruairdh Jackson and Kyle Steyn.
Team news (Connacht)
Scrum half Kieran Marmion has returned from injury to take his place in the Connacht side to play Warriors, after coming off the bench in Connacht’s victory over the Cheetahs last week.
Marmion forms a half-back partnership with 21-year-old Academy player Conor Fitzgerald who comes in for Jack Carty.
Fitzgerald’s brother Stephen is set for his second consecutive start on the wing and is part of a back three that includes Matt Healy on the opposite wing and Tiernan O’Halloran at full back.
Kyle Godwin and Tom Daly form the midfield partnership, with Bundee Aki and Tom Farrell away on international duty, while Dave Heffernan comes into the front row at hooker.
💬 | "No matter what team they'll put out they'll be strong, but we'll be confident with the team we'll put out as well".
— Connacht Rugby (@connachtrugby) February 21, 2019
Glasgow Warriors head coach Dave Rennie said: “Connacht are going to bring over a pretty well-oiled team with a lot of experience.
“They’ve been going really well and because of how tight the comp is this is a big game for both sides.
“They play a pretty good brand of footy and we know they’re going to ask a lot of questions of us, so we’re going to have to be a lot better this week than we were against Cardiff.”
Connacht head coach Andy Friend said: “It is extremely tight in our conference with only a few points separating four or five teams, so every game takes on an even greater importance now.
“We have picked a side with a good blend of youth and experience and I have full confidence in them to get a result on Friday night.
“The real positive this week is to see Kieran Marmion back and raring to go after a period of injury. He has worked really hard over the past few months to regain his fitness and he is looking forward to his 150th appearance in a Connacht jersey.
“It’s a significant milestone and something to be proud of for him and his family.”
Key battle – George Horne v Kieran Marmion
With his brother away with Scotland for the resumption of the Guinness Six Nations, George Horne will be looking to play a key role in commanding the Warriors attack in his absence.
The 23-year-old has been out of action for a month and will need to hit the ground running against his opposite number, with Marmion’s return a huge boost for Connacht.
Both players will be key to how their side plays and with Marmion also on the comeback trail – it will be his first start since November – it is sure to be a fascinating tussle at scrum-half.
— Glasgow Warriors (@GlasgowWarriors) February 21, 2019
Key fact: Glasgow Warriors’ only home defeat in the Guinness PRO14 this season was to Edinburgh in the 1872 Cup match at the end of December.
Did you know? Warriors have not been defeated by an Irish province at Scotstoun in the Guinness PRO14 since Munster were the visitors in December 2016.
Glasgow Warriors: Ruaridh Jackson, Kyle Steyn, Paddy Kelly, Stafford McDowall, Niko Matawalu, Brandon Thomson, George Horne, Oli Kebble, Grant Stewart, Siua Halanukonuka, Tim Swinson, Scott Cummings, Rob Harley, Chris Fusaro (C), Adam Ashe
Replacements: Kevin Bryce, Jamie Bhatti, Adam Nicol, Matt Fagerson, Thomas Gordon, Nick Frisby, Rory Hughes, Robbie Nairn
Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, Stephen Fitzgerald, Kyle Godwin, Tom Daly, Matt Healy, Conor Fitzgerald, Kieran Marmion, Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Cillian Gallagher, James Cannon, Eoin McKeon, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (C)
Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Peter McCabe, Conor Carey, Joe Maksymiw, Paul Boyle, Caolin Blade, Peter Robb, Cian Kelleher
TV: At Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow, 7.35pm. Live on Premier Sports 2
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (WRU)
Assistant referees: Lloyd Linton (SRU), Elgan Williams (WRU)
TMO: Charles Samson (SRU)
George Horne took less than a minute to score Glasgow Warriors’ first try as they ran out 43-17 winners over Connacht in the Guinness PRO14 on Friday night.
Dave Rennie’s side went on to score six tries in total as they moved back to within a point of Conference A leaders Munster.
Robbie Nairn and Grant Stewart also both bagged doubles in the win while the visitors did manage three scores of their own through Stephen Fitzgerald, Paul Boyle and Tom Daly.
Horne opened the scoring with 45 seconds on the clock after some great work by Kyle Steyn to dance through the onrushing defenders and find Horne on his inside who finished the job. Brandon Thomson added the extra two from a tight angle.
And with 15 minutes on the clock Thomson extended the Glasgow lead to 10 points with another accurate kick at goal.
Connacht got themselves into the game and on the scoresheet via a Stephen Fitzgerald try after he benefitted from a bouncing ball. His brother Conor pulled the resultung conversion attempt wide.
On the half-hour mark Tim Swinson restored Glasgow’s double figure advantage when he wriggled over the whitewash from two metres out.
And Glasgow made it three first-half tries through Stewart after a catch and drive came down over the Connacht try line.
To make matters worse for the Irishmen, James Cannon received ten minutes in the sin bin for bringing the maul down and Thomson nailed the conversion to make it four from four from the tee.
Connacht had the chance to pull three points back just before the half time whistle but Conor Fitzgerald, on his first ever start for the club, pushed it wide to make it three misses on the trot.
After the break it didn’t take long for Glasgow to secure the bonus point after Stewart pulled off the back of a maul and charged over the line from ten metres out for his second try of the match.
With just over an hour played Connacht dug deep and secured their second try of the night when Boyle buried his way over. The missed conversion from Kyle Godwin meant that Connacht still trailed by more than 20 points however.
With the final ten minutes approaching the two sides exchanged further tries with Glasgow dotting down first through Robbie Nairn and Connacht responded almost instantly as Daly got another one back.
Connacht supporters will have been pleased to see Godwin land their first points from the tee but their joy was cut short when Nairn went down the other end to grab his second of the night leaving Connacht with two much to do with too little time remaining.