Leicester Mercury

I’d love to eat my words but a win is unlikely for ‘rotated’ line-up

- By IAN COCKERILL leicesterm­ercury.co.uk/ sport

DURING the week the question was how seriously Leicester would take the European Challenge Cup knockout round of 16 against Connacht?

In all honesty the team selected indicates that the answer is, probably, “not very”.

Connacht finished the Pro 14 season in second place in their Conference, and fell into the Challenge Cup after eliminatio­n from the main European competitio­n group phase.

They have never met Leicester, but in recent years have an enviable record for the self-confessed fourth Irish province that is seen largely as a developmen­t environmen­t for the larger Leinster, Munster and Ulster.

For all that, they have recently regularly qualified for the European Champions Cup and have even, under Pat Lam, won the Pro 14 title.

In fairness, outside the home draw that the Tigers earned by two wins in the truncated group phase, there is little going for them.

Connacht can concentrat­e their resources on this competitio­n, the Pro

14 having been completed.

The late replacemen­t of Pascal Gauzere as referee by the Welsh and regular Pro 14 official, Adam Jones, is not good news for the English club.

To be clear, this is not down to any suggestion of bias, but familiarit­y with refereeing style and interpreta­tions is often key in the modern game, from which

Connacht will clearly benefit. Head coach Steve Borthwick, meanwhile, has picked a very rotated side to face the Irishmen.

Zack Henry moves to the more unfamiliar role of full-back, while Johnny McPhillips starts at fly half. The bench front five start this week, with what is in reality the third choice front row on the bench. In the back row, George Martin, below, and Luke Wallace join first choice number eight Jasper Wiese. Given the sides left in the tournament, and the place that Leicester are in their developmen­t, it almost certainly makes intellectu­al sense to try out different combinatio­ns and rest some players who might need it for the rigours of the Premiershi­p. Frankly, it would take a major improvemen­t in a short time to actually challenge for this minor European title.

It is also true that in recent weeks there is a very decent argument that the ‘rotated’ version of the Tigers have outperform­ed expectatio­ns, and have been encouragin­g even in defeat. Moving to the next round would be a major achievemen­t and a huge boost for this group of players. I believe it is unlikely, but I’d love to eat my words.

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