Preview: Connacht v Glasgow

The Westerners host the the Warriors in Galway this evening

Preview: Connacht v Glasgow

©INPHO/James Crombie 

Connacht enter a historic first ever Pro12 semi-final appearance this evening against the reigning champions Glasgow Warriors at the Sportsground.

Following last week's dress rehearsal, the Westerners will be feeling confident of progressing to the next round while the Warriors will remain hopeful of becoming the first side to win an away semi-final since the introduction of the play-offs.

Below we have a look at the key battles that will play out in the game.  

Key battles:

Bundee Aki v Peter Horne

Connacht's will be looking to their Player of the Season and jewel in the crown to lead them into a first ever Pro12 final in Edinburgh next week. 

It has been outstanding season for the New Zealander, with Joe Schmidt and David Nucifora reportedly keeping a close eye on the player's development at the province and his contract status with the IRFU, with the possibility of him lining out for Ireland in the future. 

Connacht's Bundee Aki and Finn Russell of Glasgow
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie

Time and time again the former Chiefs centre has shown his class this season, scoring six tries in 21 Pro12 appearances while his dynamic ball carrying game has terrorised defences across the league. 

The expectation and demands on Aki have failed to impede his form as he seems to be thriving in his midfield role alongside Robbie Henshaw and/or Craig Ronaldson, with stand out performances against Munster, Leinster, Edinburgh and Glasgow endearing him to the Galway crowd. 

His opposite number will be Peter Horne, who will be deputising at first centre for the injured Alex Dunbar. 

Make no mistake however, Horne is an accomplished international player himself and will be making his 100th appearance for the Scottish club, partnering Mark Bennett in the middle of the park. 

Horne currently holds a one in three strike rate for the Champions this season, touching down three times in nine appearances. 

Despite his attacking ability, it would seem probable that Horne will be leading the defensive charge as he looks to keep Aki under wraps. 

Jake Heenan v Simone Favaro

Given the likely conditions that the sides will be facing at the Sportsground, this game will more than likely be won on the deck. 

Connacht's Jake Heenan and John Muldoon
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie

Former New Zealand u-20 captain Jake Heenan has managed to put a torrid spell of injuries behind him to time his run back to form to perfection. 

The Connacht openside has completed the full 80 three times in his last four games for the province, the most he has done season. 

While his groundhog like ability will be vital to Connacht if they are to win the battle of the breakdown, he will come up against Italian international and tackling machine Simone Favaro. 

Favaro has been a mainstay of the Glasgow team since joining from Treviso two season ago, while his pedigree on the international stage continues to grow. 

Ireland's Robbie Henshaw with Simone Favaro of Italy
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Less of a breakdown specialist and more of an all action defensive leader, Favaro's particular attributes could prove crucial in thwarting the deep attacking threat of the home side. 

Pat Lam v Gregor Townsend

 

Possibly the most intriguing battle of the lot is the one between the two coaches. 

For Connacht, the initial target of Champions Cup qualifications has been far exceeded, with Pat Lam's charges playing an exciting brand of inventive and attacking running rugby, while also showing their grit in grinding out important results, such as recent wins against Leinster and Glasgow last week. 

The Aucklander has been championing the 'Grassroots to Greenshirts' initiative all season as the province look to instil a new rugby culture across the province.

On the pitch Lam has overseen a remarkable turnaround in fortunes from recent seasons, with his tactical nous and inventiveness constantly keeping opposition defences.

Glasgow Warriors' head coach Gregor Townsend
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Ian Cook

What Lam is doing with Connacht now is what Gregor Townsend has done with Glasgow.

Last year proved to be their breakthrough year following a couple of seasons of real promise, as he cultivated a winning mentality at the club which culminated in Pro12 glory last season, following the previous two seasons of hurt.

The advantage in this battle stands with the Scottish side, with Townsend and Glasgow having been here before and knowing what it takes to win, that experience will stand to them in what will surely be a close affair. 

Teams:

Connacht

15. Tiernan O’Halloran
14. Niyi Adeolokun
13. Robbie Henshaw
12. Bundee Aki
11. Matt Healy
10. AJ MacGinty
9. Kieran Marmion

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

Replacements:

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

Glasgow Warriors

15. Stuart Hogg
14. Tommy Seymour
13. Mark Bennett
12. Peter Horne
11. Sean Lamont
10. Finn Russell
9. Henry Pyrgos

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

Replacements:

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