Connacht’s efforts at the RDS last Friday went unrewarded but they are back on home turf this weekend as they entertain the Scarlets at the Sportsground. Michael Bradley’s men have won three of their last four league games in Galway and will be eager to continue that trend.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Friday, January 9
CONNACHT v SCARLETS, The Sportsground, 6.30pm
Team News: Connacht have made five changes to their team for the visit of the Scarlets to the Sportsground this Friday.
Ireland international Gavin Duffy has recovered from a hamstring injury to take up position at full-back with Keith Matthews returning to inside centre having overcome a bout of flu.
Up front, Brett Wilkinson and Sean Cronin both return to the front row, with the fit-again Ray Ofisa also coming in to start at openside flanker.
Tim Donnelly (knee), Johnny O’Connor (calf) and Aidan Wynne (ankle) were not considered by Connacht coach Michael Bradley due to injury.
Meanwhile, the Scarlets, despite fielding a strong-looking line-up, are still light on options behind the scrum due to long-term injuries to Gavin Evans, Rob Higgitt, Dafydd James and Daniel Evans.
In addition, a bug has meant that Wales out-half Stephen Jones, the Scarlets’ top scorer in the league, trained only on Thursday this week so he will start the Galway game on the bench, and Wales winger Mark Jones is out due to an appendix operation.
Another late withdrawal for Nigel Davies’ men is lock Simon Maling who tweaked a hamstring. Vernon Cooper is in to replace him and unattached French triallist Yannick N’Gog (winger) comes onto the bench.
Providing the visitors with a much-needed boost, experienced Wales prop Iestyn Thomas is back fit and takes a place on the bench.
CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy; Fionn Carr, Niva Ta’auso, Keith Matthews, Liam Bibo; Ian Keatley, Frank Murphy; Brett Wilkinson, Sean Cronin, Robbie Morris, Mike McCarthy, Andrew Farley, John Muldoon (capt), Ray Ofisa, Colm Rigney.
Replacements: Adrian Flavin, Ronan Loughney, Michael Swift, Andrew Browne, Kieran Campbell, Andy Dunne, Mel Deane.
SCARLETS: Morgan Stoddart; Darren Daniel, Regan King, Jon Davies, Gareth Morris; Rhys Priestland, Martin Roberts; Phil John, Matthew Rees, Deacon Manu, Dominic Day, Vernon Cooper, Simon Easterby (capt), Johnathan Edwards, David Lyons.
Replacements: Iestyn Thomas, Ken Owens, Lou Reed, Dafydd Jones, Gavin Cattle, Stephen Jones, Yannick N’Gog.
Referee: James Jones (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Leo Colgan, Seamus Flannery (both Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 6/5; Draw: 20/1; Scarlets to win: 4/6
Say What: Michael Bradley (Connacht) – “We should have got something out of the Leinster game and that was disappointing.
“It looked as if we had done enough to win the game but just did not complete the job.
“We need to learn how to close out games. It is not easily done but there was a great chance on Friday night to do that and we did not take it.
“It was a solid display and it deserved better but we need to move on from that and make sure we get a result against the Scarlets next Friday.
“This will be a big test against the Scarlets, especially as they have so many Welsh internationals, but we are playing well at the moment and are confident of another win.”
Nigel Davies (Scarlets) – “Connacht have put in some strong performances of late and are very difficult to play against. We’ve lost over there in the past so Friday has the makings of a very difficult game.
“However, the fact that we’re fighting for this league focuses the mind a little bit which isn’t a bad thing.
“Connacht’s a tough place to go – it’s a small field, normally windy and they play a basic game very well.
“They’ll be physical as ever and they’ll kick for territory so we’ll have to manage that particularly well. We’ve got to be clinical in our approach and we’ve got to have a tough mentality.”
Top Scorers: 2008/09 Magners League – Points: Connacht: Ian Keatley 64; Scarlets: Stephen Jones 82; Tries: Connacht: Fionn Carr 3; Scarlets: Mark Jones, Martin Roberts, Morgan Stoddart 3 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Saturday, February 18, 2006 – Connacht 33 Scarlets 19, The Sportsground
Friday, September 15, 2006 – Connacht 15 Scarlets 37, The Sportsground
Friday, May 11, 2007 – Scarlets 19 Connacht 10, Stradey Park
Friday, September 28, 2007 – Scarlets 34 Connacht 11, Stradey Park
Friday, January 4, 2008 – Connacht 20 Scarlets 18, The Sportsground
Saturday, September 13, 2008 – Scarlets 45 Connacht 3, Stradey Park
– Connacht’s three-match winning run in all competitions was ended at Leinster last Friday, however the westerners have won three of their last four games in Galway in the Magners League
– Against that, Connacht have lost all three games against Welsh opponents this season
– The Scarlets have won two of their last three matches in the Magners League, but away from home in all competitions the Welshmen have slipped to four successive defeats
– The Scarlets’ only win in their last five visits to Ireland was a 16-9 triumph at Ulster on September 5 last
– Connacht have won just one of their last five encounters with the Scarlets – 20-18 at the Sportsground in this equivalent fixture last season