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saracens marmion
Confusion reigns supreme among the fans but experience is trusted to deliver on the pitch.

Starting XV: 15 Gavin Duffy, 14 Fionn Carr, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Eoin Griffin, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Kieran Marmion
1 Brett Wilkinson, 2 Sean Henry, 3 Nathan White, 4 Michael Swift, 5 Craig Clarke (c), 6 Andrew Browne, 7 Jake Heenan, 8 John Muldoon
Replacements: 16 Jason Harris-Wright, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Mick Kearney 20 George Naoupu, 21 Paul O’Donohoe, 22 Darragh Leader, 23. Tiernan O’Halloran
Unavailable/Injured: Eoin McKeon, Dave Nolan, Willie Faloon, Dave McSharry, Danie Poolman, Miah Nikora, and Kyle Tonetti.

Starting XV: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Duncan Taylor, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 David Strettle, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Richard Wigglesworth
1 Mako Vunipola, 2 Schalk Brits, 3 Matt Stevens, 4 Steve Borthwick (c), 5 George Kruis, 6 Billy Vunipola, 7 Kelly Brown, 8 Ernst Joubert
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 James Johnston, 19 Alistair Hargreaves, 20 Jackson Wray, 21 Neil de Kock, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Chris Wyles

Venue: Allianz Park, London
Date: Saturday, 18th January 2013
Kick-off: 13.35
TV Broadcasts: Sky Sports 2 HD (13:00)
Referee: Leighton Hodges (WRU)

Pat Lam has caused many serious bouts of head-scratching with his latest selection for Connacht as they prepare to take on the current Aviva Premiership leaders Saracens this weekend. The area of concern among the Connacht Clan is the lack of obvious back-up for Dan Parks at out-half, with only Leader on the bench and Gavin Duffy being potential out-halves cover. The absence of Jack Carty, the young academy contracted player who won plaudits from fans and critics alike for his recent displays, and Craig Ronaldson, who handled his introduction to professional rugby this year with aplomb, is quite a baffling gamble. Leader and Duffy have both played out-half before but neither at anything near the level that would be expected tomorrow against Saracens.
Aside from Parks inclusion for Carty, and his and Ronaldson's exclusion from the matchday squad, there is only one other change in the backs. This is the inclusion of Gavin Duffy over Darragh Leader at fullback. Leader has also taken his opportunity with both hands and impressed with his recent displays, so Pat Lam is obviously looking to Duffy for his solid aerial defence and experience. Aside from that the centre partnership is stronger than when Connacht last played Saracen's, with Griffin and Henshaw's partnership continuing to improve, and our dangerous wingers hold their spots as well.
Up front there are no changes from last week, but Nathan White will be playing against the Saracen's for the first time with Connacht as he missed the first round of the HEC due to injury. We also see Michael Swift win back his starting position from Mick Kearney, who had been an injury doubt during the week. Although that may have hampered Kearney's ability to train and influenced Lam's decision there is no doubt that Swift will add not just bulk but leadership to the Connacht pack, and alongside Clarke they make for a powerful engine room. The backrow as a side effect of Kearney's return and Swift's return to grace sees Andrew Browne move back to openside, and Muldoon shift over to Number 8, meaning that all three "club captains" are included in the starting XV. Heenan retains his position at the openside flank.

The Saracens side is has a lot of changes in it compared to the side that flew to Galway in October. The back three including RBS 6 Nations 2014 England squad members Chris Ashton and Alex Goode is unchanged but the rest of the Sarancens' backline has had a complete refresh. In the centre Scotland and England internationals Taylor and Barritt combine, but with Taylor forced to move to outside centre to accommodate Barritt. At outhalf Hodgson replaces Farrell, and England "Saxons" squad member Richard Wigglesworth will take up the scrum-half mantle in place of Neil de Kock.
The English side's pack on the other hand has seen less flux and the front row of Vunipola, Brits and Stevens is the same as that which started against Connacht in Round 1. Brits was their main carrier in the pack that day and Connacht will need to keep a close eye on the South African. The second row of Bothwich and Kruis will be as wily as ever, and youngster Kruis will be buoyed by his selection on the England Saxons' squad. The only change to the backrow sees Ernst Joubert introduced at number 8, with Billy Vunipola shifting to 6 to accomodate him and Brown moving to openside.

The last game between these two sides was a great match that went to the line, but Connacht's defensive game was poor in general. Miscommunication in defence led to the two Saracen's tries in the first half. First David Wyles took advantage of a shooting mid-field, where the newly partnered Ronaldson and Henshaw ended up drawn too far in, to cut around the outside of the Connacht mid-field defenders. Second Ah-You failed to line up his man at the fringe of a ruck and Mako Vunipola was allowed to get to within 2 metres of the try-line, the Connacht defence couldn't recover and Ashton went over on the other wing. That is not to say that Saracens did not work their try well, or that Connacht made their tries for them, but to point out that Connacht are facing a side that, like all of the best rugby teams, can and will take advantage of the smallest of mistakes.
That said Connacht's defence has improved considerably and this is especially true in the centre where Griffin and Henshaw seem to be getting used to each others strengths and weaknesses, and really what Connacht will have to work hardest on is carrying the ball over the gainline. The Connacht forwards have to look for simple ways to get the Saracens line turning, because without that all of the skilful backs in the world will not be able to break-down a professional and well organised defensive line. Saracens carried the ball 419 metres from 106 carries, on average 3.9 metres per carry. Connacht carried 216 metres from 98 carries, on average 2.2 metres per carry. Basically Saracens could go nearly twice the length Connacht could for the same effort. This is a combination of both how well Saracens took advantage of missed tackles (13 Connacht vs 11 Saracens) and how Connacht failed to identify how to set their own carriers free. Both of these needs to be improved tomorrow.

Saracens have a bit more of a playmaker in Hodgson on the pitch, and they also have an improved centre pairing, and they have a stellar back-three. It looks like Saracens are trusting their pack to deliver the ball to their backline and have selected a backline that they think will put on a show for their paying customers at Allianz Park.
The Connacht selection has the look of a side picked for their backbone - a side picked not to break in the face of pressure. The three club Captains (Mul, Duffy and Swifty), our on-field captain Clarke, Nathan White in the front row, Parks at outhalf. All of these men are tasked with not just facing down the Saracens, but with finding a way through them, inspiring and leading the younger players around them and delivering victory for Connacht. There is not much hope for a victory though... just enough for us Connacht supporters. As always.
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