Connacht could make up crucial ground on the Newport Gwent Dragons when they visit the Welsh region at Rodney Parade on Sunday. Recent form – Connacht scored a bonus point win over the Dragons at the Sportsground – and the fact that the westerners have won five of the last six meetings between the sides would suggest that they are very much capable of chalking up an elusive away win.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Sunday, April 26
Newport Gwent Dragons v Connacht, Rodney Parade, 5.05pm (live S4C/Setanta Sports Ireland)
Team News: Connacht have made three changes and one positional switch to their team ahead of travelling to Wales to face the Newport Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade on Sunday.
Both Ray Ofisa and Keith Matthews have overcome the injuries which kept them out of last week’s game against Munster to start at number 8 and inside centre respectively.
Brian McGovern starts at tighthead prop with Michael Swift partnering Andrew Farley in the second row, as Andrew Browne reverts to the blindside flanker position.
Ireland international Gavin Duffy will captain the province in the absense of John Muldoon for the fourth time this season.
Muldoon is suspended for this weekend’s crunch tie, after picking up his third yellow card against Munster last week.
Meanwhile, Rhodri Gomer Davies and Adam Black will both start for Newport Gwent Dragons in Sunday’s basement clash.
The pair have both been out of action since February’s game against Ulster, during which Black injured his neck and Gomer Davies took a knock to his ankle.
Gomer Davies will partner Ashley Smith in midfield, with Rory Sidey the man to make way, while Black returns at loosehead at the expense of Hugh Gustafson.
Elsewhere, Kevin Morgan misses out so Jason Tovey switches to full-back and James Arlidge returns at number 10.
In the only other change to the back-line which started against Connacht at the Sportsground last time out, Gareth Wyatt comes into the back-three in place of Aled Brew.
In the pack, Sean Tomes drops out and that sees Hoani MacDonald return to the second row. Danny Lydiate fills the void left by MacDonald at openside flanker.
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS: Jason Tovey; Gareth Wyatt, Rhodri Gomer Davies, Ashley Smith, Richard Fussell; James Arlidge, Wayne Evans; Adam Black, Tom Willis (capt), Rhys Thomas, Hoani Macdonald, Luke Charteris, Danny Lydiate, Richard Parks, Joe Bearman.
Replacements: Steve Jones, Nigel Hall, Andrew Hall, Lewis Evans, Martyn Thomas, Rory Sidey, Alex Walker.
CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy (capt); Fionn Carr, Niva Ta’auso, Keith Matthews, Liam Bibo; Ian Keatley, Frank Murphy; Brett Wilkinson, Sean Cronin, Brian McGovern, Michael Swift, Andrew Farley, Andrew Browne, Johnny O’Connor, Ray Ofisa.
Replacements: Adrian Flavin, Ronan Loughney, David Gannon, Colm Rigney, Conor O’Loughlin, Andy Dunne, Troy Nathan.
Referee: Graham Knox (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Phil Fear, David Jones (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Hugh Watkins (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Newport Gwent Dragons to win: 1/5; Draw: 20/1; Connacht to win: 10/3
Say What: Michael Bradley (Connacht) – “At this stage of the season, the Dragons and Glasgow away and Ulster at home are critical to us.
“We put five tries on the Dragons when they visited the Sportsground and they felt it did not reflect the game, so they will be looking to put the record straight. It was a poor day for them so Sunday is a very big game for both of us.
“We’re expecting a tight game. It’s about creating chances and taking them and being solid in defence.
“We were not against Munster, we were shaky in defence and on two occasions (in the first half) they got through.”
Paul Turner (Newport Gwent Dragons) – “We are fortunate to have a fairly clean bill of health at this stage of the season and are putting out our strongest side out against Connacht on Sunday.
“After the encouraging friendly against Worcester last week and the return of key players in Adam Black and Rhodri Gomer Davies, we are feeling confident going into this game that we can answer the questions being asked of us by our supporters.
“There were some very strong individual performances last week at Sixways which has given a vital confidence boost to the squad.
“In the away match against Connacht, we didn’t defend well enough and got our just desserts. There has been a lot of introspection and full and frank discussions over the last couple of weeks and we are looking to redress the situation this weekend.
“Sunday’s game is not going to be easy, but the players are determined that a line be drawn under that match in Galway and we work to finish the season on a high.”
Top Scorers: 2008/09 Magners League – Points: Newport Gwent Dragons: James Arlidge 62; Connacht: Ian Keatley 109; Tries: Newport Gwent Dragons: Richard Fussell 7; Connacht: Fionn Carr 6
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Saturday, April 15, 2006 – Connacht 15 Newport Gwent Dragons 10, The Sportsground
Friday, October 13, 2006 – Connacht 16 Newport Gwent Dragons 9, The Sportsground
Friday, May 4, 2007 – Newport Gwent Dragons 23 Connacht 0, Rodney Parade
Friday, September 21, 2007 – Connacht 22 Newport Gwent Dragons 7, The Sportsground
Friday, April 18, 2008 – Newport Gwent Dragons 11 Connacht 13, Rodney Parade
Friday, April 3, 2009 – Connacht 39 Newport Gwent Dragons 17, The Sportsground
– The Newport Gwent Dragons have won just one of their last five matches in all competitions, 26-16 at home to Ulster on February 22
– The Dragons lost the last time they hosted an Irish team at Rodney Parade (20-9 to Munster on March 7)
– Connacht’s only win in their last six matches in all competitions was a 39-17 triumph over the Dragons three weeks ago in Galway
– Connacht have managed just one away victory in the Magners League since the opening game of the 2006/07 season – a 13-11 win in this equivalent fixture last season
– Connacht have won five of the last six meetings between the two sides