Heineken Cup preview: Connacht v Saracens
By Sam Drury - Follow on Twitter. Last Updated: 12/10/13 11:32am
Owen Farrell: Returns to the Saracens starting XI at Connacht
Aviva Premiership leaders Saracens begin their Heineken Cup campaign away at Connacht on Friday and will be hoping to maintain their winning run this season.
Mark McCall's side have won five from five in the league this season to top the table by five points after victory over Wasps at the weekend and will be full of confidence for their trip to Ireland.
Connacht, on the other hand, have suffered a poor start to the season in the RaboDirect Pro12, winning just once and losing their last four in their first five games. They were beaten 23-3 by Treviso in their last outing.
The good news for the home side is that they can welcome back captain Michael Swift in the second row with head coach Pat Lam making a number of other changes.
Rodney Ah You starts at tighthead with Brett Wilkinson and Sean Henry completing the front row whilst there are alterations to the backs too with Fionn Carr moving to right wing and Danie Poolman coming in on the left.
New signing James So'oialo is paired in the centre with Ireland international Robbie Henshaw but Lam bemoaned the loss of Eion Griffin and a host of other injuries.
"It was a huge blow for us losing our two tightheads last week as well as our starting centre Eoin Griffin. Our back line also took a hit when Matt Healy had to pull out with a knee injury," he said.
"With those injuries to our front rowers, we've had to bring up young JP Cooney as well as Peter Reilly from the Academy. Jason Harris-Wright was unavailable to train at the start of the week but he has made enough recovery on his return to take his place on the bench."
Saracens, meanwhile, bring Owen Farrell back into the starting XV after leaving him on the bench for the 19-12 win over Wasps. As a result Alex Goode returns to his usual full-back role.
David Strettle is back on the left wing with Joel Tomkins and Chris Wyles continuing together in the centre.
"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."
Connacht: 15. Gavin Duffy, 14 Fionn Carr, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 James So'oialo, 11 Danie Poolman, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Kieran Marmion; 1 Brett Wilkinson, 2 Sean Henry, 3 Rodney Ah You, 4 Michael Swift (c), 5 Craig Clarke, 6 John Muldoon, 7 Jake Heenan, 8 George Naoupu.
Replacements: 16 Jason Harris-Wright, 17 Peter Reilly, 18 JP Cooney, 19 Aly Muldowney, 20 Andrew Browne, 21 Paul O'Donohoe, 22 Craig Ronaldson, 23 Tiernan O'Halloran.
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Joel Tomkins, 12 Chris Wyles, 11 David Strettle, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Neil de Kock; 1 Mako Vunipola, 2 Schalk Brits, 3 Matt Stevens, 4 Steve Borthwick (c), 5 George Kruis, 6 Kelly Brown, 7 Will Fraser, 8 Billy 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.