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Magners Preview: Scarlets v Connacht

Magners Preview: Scarlets v Connacht

Buoyed by their stirring midweek victory over Leinster, a much-changed Connacht side will go in search of a rare away win in the Magners League when they challenge the Scarlets on Sunday afternoon.

MAGNERS LEAGUE: Sunday, April 25

SCARLETS (10th) v CONNACHT (9th), Parc y Scarlets, 2.05pm (live Setanta Sports Ireland/BBC Wales)

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Team News: Connacht coach Michael Bradley has confirmed his team and replacements for Sunday’s Magners League tie against the Scarlets, making nine changes to the side that accounted for Leinster in midweek.

Sunday afternoon will see Connacht take on the Scarlets whom they leapfrogged in the Magners League table after their terrific 27-13 home win over Leinster.

Having to play three league games in the space of seven days and prepare for an Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final against Toulon has stretched Connacht’s resources to the maximum.

Affording some of his frontliners a well-deserved rest, the westerners’ coach Bradley has made nine changes in personnel for the trip to Llanelli.

Troy Nathan, Brian Tuohy, Conor O’Loughlin, Ronan Loughney, Robbie Morris and Mike McComish are the only survivors from the side that toppled Leinster.

Ireland Under-20 duo Tiernan O’Halloran and Eoin Griffin will make their Magners League debuts, lining out on the right wing and at outside centre respectively.

This will be O’Halloran’s second competitive start for the province. He played earlier in the season in the Amlin Challenge Cup.

Liam Bibo has recovered from a hamstring to start at full-back, with Griffin partnering Troy Nathan in midfield and Brian Tuohy switching wings to the left.

Ian Keatley replaces Miah Nikora at out-half, while there are five changes up front. Adrian Flavin has been introduced into the front row, senior debutant David Nolan partners Bernie Upton in the second row and flanker Ray Ofisa makes a welcome return.

Ofisa, who has recovered from a bout of vertigo, will make his 50th league appearance and first since St. Patrick’s Day, linking up with Andrew Browne and McComish in the back row.

In all, the Connacht matchday squad includes 11 graduates of the Connacht Academy, and there is another potential Magners League debutant on the bench in the form of Ireland Under-19 back rower Eoin McKeon.

Meanwhile, Wales and Lions hooker Matthew Rees will return to the Scarlets’ starting line-up for Sunday’s game against Connacht.

His international colleague Stephen Jones has been ruled out with a minor ankle injury and hopes to be back next week for the region’s final fixture of the season against Glasgow Warriors. Flanker Richie Pugh (shoulder) is also sidelined for the visit of ninth-placed Connacht.

Rhys Priestland slots in at out-half with Martin Roberts starting at scrum half ahead of Tavis Knoyle, lock Damian Welch gets a chance to impress with a start for the region and experienced prop Iestyn Thomas is back in the side.

Scarlets coach Nigel Davies said: “We have had a very focused and honest week and as a group got to the core of some issues regarding our last two performances which we have been very disappointed with.

“We dropped off the level of performance we are capable of and need to get back on our feet quickly and return where we have been previously this season, particularly in our European campaign which has, in the main, been really positive given where this group is in its development.

“We are very disappointed with our league position, and while we know we have come close to wins on so many occasions – ultimately the table does not lie.

“We want to put that right this weekend and we know we have just got to put in two massive performances at the end of the season to show people what we are capable of and to excite our supporters again going into next season.

“We need to get some respect back for ourselves as a team and for our support, which has been great this season home and away.”

SCARLETS: Daniel Evans; Sean Lamont, Regan King, Jonathan Davies, Andy Fenby; Rhys Priestland, Martin Roberts; Iestyn Thomas, Matthew Rees, Rhys Thomas, Lou Reed, Damian Welch, Rob McCusker, Josh Turnbull, David Lyons (capt).

Replacements: Phil John, Emyr Phillips, Deacon Manu Dominic Day, Tavis Knoyle, Dan Newton, Lee Williams.

CONNACHT: Liam Bibo; Tiernan O’Halloran, Eoin Griffin, Troy Nathan, Brian Tuohy; Ian Keatley, Conor O’Loughlin; Ronan Loughney, Adrian Flavin (capt), Robbie Morris, David Nolan, Bernie Upton, Andrew Browne, Ray Ofisa, Mike McComish.

Replacements: Dermot Murphy, Conor Higgins, Eoin McKeon, Johnny O’Connor, Kieran Campbell, Miah Nikora, Aidan Wynne.

Referee: Andy Macpherson (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Nigel Whitehouse, Colin Kirkhouse (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Neil Ballard (Wales)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Scarlets to win: 1/20; Draw: 28/1; Connacht to win: 7/1

Pre-Match Quotes: Eric Elwood (Connacht) – “It would be great (to qualify for the Heineken Cup), of course, but we’re a long way away from that at the moment.

“Our goal all year has been to make our way into the Heineken Cup – we are growing, developing, improving and our home record is very good.

“Yet, we need to get that consistency into our game that will secure the results we need to do better in the Magners League.

“I suppose the proximity of our match this week against Leinster from the game at the RDS – a match we should have won – to this helped us. For starters, we were really so disappointed with our performance against Munster that there was probably bound to be a reaction.

“We got off on the right foot against Leinster, didn’t take a step back and then just took our chances. It was brilliant to score three tries against a team of that stature and not to concede one – other than a penalty try – was good.

“It was an outstanding response to the defeat by Munster and it puts us in a much better position than the one we were in before the game.

“This is a professional environment where guys are fronting up to every challenge that’s put in front of them and, I think, that’s maybe why we are where we are with a relatively small squad.

“We know what we have to do to develop. It’s got to be about producing results and upgrading facilities for the supporters. That’s what we are striving for here.

“It may not be done to the same scale as that enjoyed in Munster, Leinster and Ulster but, if we do certain things right, I am confident people will come to our games and that will be of huge benefit to rugby overall.”

Sean Lamont (Scarlets) – “In the last two games (against Toulon and Cardiff) we underperformed, it wasn’t our game-plans or what we’d been coached in the week, there was good stuff we had worked on but we just didn’t do what we set out to.

“In both games we were basically outworked – especially last week against the Blues. In the cold light of day, the boys know that and we did not work hard enough.

“There has been a lot of honesty this week, issues were aired, sometimes it takes meetings like we had on Monday to move you on and hopefully we’ve all taken it on board – these next two games will tell and of course, we are looking to finish the two games with wins.

“The boys want to do that and the supporters deserve it – they have been loyal to us all season. That said, they will be two tough games with two teams that have been on good form and put some big wins together, so it will be no mean feat but we know it’s something we need to do.

“Both of the sides we face, Connacht and Glasgow Warriors, still have something to play for – but so do we – we have pure pride to play for.

“We don’t want to end the season on a losing streak, so hopefully we can get a change around this weekend and finish these two games on a high note.”

Top Scorers – 2009/10 Magners League: Scarlets – Points: Rhys Priestland 105; Tries: Jonathan Davies 4; Connacht – Points: Ian Keatley 123; Tries: Fionn Carr 7


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 Scarlts 18, the Sportsground
Saturday, September 13, 2008 – Scarlets 45 Connacht 3, Stradey Park
Friday, January 9, 2009 – Connacht 14 Scarlets 17, the Sportsground
Friday, October 30, 2009 – Connacht 16 Scarlets 10, the Sportsground


– The Scarlets have slipped to five successive defeats in all competitions since their 25-8 win over Ulster at Parc y Scarlets in the Magners League last month, this remains the Scarlets’ only win in their last eight games against Irish opponents this season

– Connacht hosted Leinster on Wednesday, picking up a superb 27-13 victory which saw them get back to winning ways after Munster had ended their eight-match unbeaten run at the Sportsground last weekend

– Connacht have won just one of their last 34 away games in the Magners, a 13-11 triumph over the Newport Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade in April 2008

– Connacht beat the Scarlets 16-10 at the Sportsground in round 7 of the league, and are going for their first ever season’s double over the West Walians