Need to Know: Connacht v Glasgow Playoff Preview

KO 6.30 at a Sold Out Sportsground, Saturday 21st May
Live on BBC Two Scotland

Team Talk
Four players are promoted from the bench for Glasgow – Bennett (for the injured Dunbar); Lamont (for Jones); Fagerson (for the suspended Puafisi); and Favaro (for Harley with Wilson moving to 6). In addition Henry Pyrgos returns from injury to replace Ali Price. It’s all change among the substitutes with Grant, Rae, Ashe, Weir and Naiyaravoro giving coach Gregor Townsend some different options for changing the game or style of play.

Connacht swap McKeon in from the bench for O’Brien and bring in Browne as lock cover but, unsurprisingly, are otherwise unchanged from a deserved win 2 weeks ago against the same opponents at the same venue.

  • This will be the Warriors’ first playoff ever without Al Kellock in the matchday squad.
  • The players selected have 1,577 previous appearances for Glasgow – the most of any side they have put out this season.
  • Pat MacArthur will make his 7th playoff appearance when he comes off the bench, matching Big Al’s club record.
  • 16 of the Glasgow 23 played in last season’s semi-final win over Ulster.

Teams

CONNACHT
15 Tiernan O’Halloran
14 Niyi Adeolokun
13 Robbie Henshaw
12 Bundee Aki
11 Matt Healy
10 AJ MacGinty
9 Kieran Marmion
GLASGOW WARRIORS
15 Stuart Hogg
14 Tommy Seymour
13 Mark Bennett
12 Peter Horne
11 Sean Lamont
10 Finn Russell
9 Henry Pyrgos

1 Ronan Loughney
2 Tom McCartney
3 Finlay Bealham
4 Ultan Dillane
5 Aly Muldowney
6 Eoin McKeon
7 Jake Heenan
8 John Muldoon (c)

1 Gordon Reid
2 Fraser Brown
3 Zander Fagerson
4 Leone Nakarawa
5 Jonny Gray (c)
6 Ryan Wilson
7 Simone Favaro
8 Josh Strauss

16 Dave Heffernan
17 JP Cooney
18 Rodney Ah You
19 Andrew Browne
20 Sean O’Brien
21 John Cooney
22 Shane O’Leary
23 Peter Robb

16 Pat MacArthur
17 Ryan Grant
18 D’arcy Rae
19 Tim Swinson
20 Adam Ashe
21 Grayson Hart
22 Duncan Weir
23 Taqele Naiyaravoro

Head to Head:
Back 3 – ADV Glasgow
Centres – ADV Connacht
Half Backs – ADV Glasgow
Front Row – ADV Connacht
Second Row – ADV Glasgow
Back Row – EVEN
Subs – ADV Glasgow

Matchday Milestones:
It’s Centurion time again as Peter Horne becomes the 8th player this season to bring up 100 appearances for Glasgow. His centre partner, Mark Bennett, has exactly half as many outings for the club on the occasion of his 50th game.

Warriors One to Watch:
There are players whose performance suffers when the pressure comes on. Then there are individuals who thrive on the demands of the really big games, the significant moments. Finn Russell is very much in the latter category. After a quiet match last time out against Connacht with a few wrong options taken and a couple of kicks missed he’ll not want for extra motivation to show what he he is really capable of. The difference is that this is a game with no tomorrows – and Finn has been a key influence on the Warriors’ last four playoff matches, including a 100% kicking record from 16 attempts. The return of Henry Pyrgos at 9 takes some of the decision-making pressure off Finn’s shoulders and should mean he has more freedom to play his natural off-the-cuff style.

Toony’s Track Record…
…against Connacht:

  • 7 wins, 1 losses.

…in the playoffs:

  • 3 wins, 2 losses.
  • Leinster are the only team to defeat Gregor Townsend’s men in the post-season.

Most recent match-up:

Metres gained by forwards:
Connacht 63m Glasgow 247m

Connacht’s fierce defence drew a lot of well-merited praise and they increased their intensity the closer Glasgow got to their 22. However the Warriors primary carriers did have plenty of success when they either kept it tight using the pick and go, or managed to get a little wider than the initial rush of Connacht forwards. Henry Pyrgos is a master of varying which runners he uses and this is likely to make it more difficult for the home side to target a specific carrier to try and knock back. Pat Lam is unlikely to be happy to spend as long without the ball this time out and will be looking for his forwards to be more involved, punching holes and tying in the Glasgow back row and midfield defence.

Missed tackles by backs
Connacht 12 Glasgow 3

Glasgow’s handling and decision-making was not up to its usual standard in Round 22. With Connacht playing 3 men deep and their focus on the rush defence close to the ruck there were spaces out wide that should have been exploited by Jones, Seymour and Hogg. The Westies backs were frequently isolated one-on-one , contributing to the missed tackles stats noted above. The work rate of the Connacht scramble defence was admirable but Glasgow would have expected to create far more scoring opportunities given the number of clean breaks and defenders beaten and must iron out the imprecision that held them back.

Setpieces won/lost
Connacht 21/1 Glasgow 16/1

There was very little threat, from either side, to their opposition’s ball at the scrum and lineout. Connacht will definitely feel the more comfortable about this given the disruption to their front row during that game. With Glasgow shorn of the suspended Sila Puafisi (who started 11 of their last 14 games at tighthead) the home side will be keen to try and take advantage on Saturday and earn some scrum penalties. The Warriors may have to be content with targeting the lineout where, with three top class options, they should be making far more effort to disrupt the Connacht throw-in than they did last time out.

Overall

If the match stats were shown to someone who hadn’t watched the game they would probably be surprised to learn that Glasgow lost despite dominating the offensive categories and working over the Connacht defence, forcing them to make more than twice as many tackles. What the stats cannot capture though is how disruptive the home side’s defensive work was; how many errors Glasgow made when passing and catching the ball; how many wrong options were taken at the crucial time; and how much more efficient Connacht were when they got into the 22 (although even they left some points out on the pitch that they would expect to have taken on another day). Ultimately the only stats that mattered were on the scoreboard and it’s the same again for this game – nothing else will count come 8.30 on Saturday.

Home and Away:
Connacht last 5 (H) – W W W W W
Glasgow last 5 (A) – W W W W L

Officials:
Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR, 53rd competition game)
Assistant Referees: Nigel Owens (WRU) Stefano Penne (FIR)
Citing Commissioner: Gwyn Bowden (WRU)
TMO: Carlo Damasco (FIR)

This will be the third game of the season for Glasgow and Mr. Mitrea, and the 5th across the past 3 campaigns. The raw numbers don’t make particularly attractive reading for the Warriors – the penalty count from the previous four games is 54-33 against them and Mr. M has yellow carded 5 of their players (none for the opposition). Ryan Wilson in particular will be keen to avoid an unwanted hat-trick after being sin binned by the Italian/Romanian whistler against the Blues and Ulster already this season.

Big decisions can be a bit of a lottery for Mr. Mitrea – he has had some issues when using the screens and consulting with the other officials. In the Leinster v Edinburgh game a month ago he appeared to arrive at the choice just to award a penalty after Fergus McFadden’s hit (for which he was later cited and suspended) after minimal review on the big screen and with essentially no input from the TMO or assistants. It will be interesting to see how the officiating team’s dynamics pan out with Nigel Owens running the line and the experienced Carlo Damasco in the TMO hot seat…

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