After such a positive start to their Magners League campaign in the Galway sunshine last Saturday, Connacht turn their focus to improving their away form as they hit the road in search of a long-awaited win in Wales.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Saturday, September 11
SCARLETS (9th) v CONNACHT (3rd), Parc y Scarlets, 3pm
Team News: Connacht coach Eric Elwood has selected his starting line-up to take on the Scarlets in Saturday’s Magners League match in Llanelli.
The Connacht team remains largely unchanged from the side that secured a 40-17 bonus point win over the Newport Gwent Dragons last weekend, with Mike McComish starting in place of injured Ezra Taylor.
Taylor underwent scans on his knee injury during the week and is awaiting the results to determine the extent of the injury.
Scrum half Frank Murphy retains the captaincy in the absence of the injured John Muldoon, with the tried and tested partnership of Michael Swift and Bernie Upton offering plenty of choice at lineout time.
Murphy’s half-back partner Ian Keatley will hope to add to his 25-point tally from the Dragons game (a try, four conversions and four penalties).
Last week he became the top Connacht points scorer in a single Magners League match, overtaking Paul Warrick’s total of 21 against the Scarlets in 2006.
Meanwhile, international trio Stephen Jones, Matthew Rees and Sean Lamont will start for the Scarlets in the region’s first home game of the season.
Wales and Lions hooker Matthew Rees will captain a strong Scarlets outfit which sees the return of Rhys Thomas at tighthead prop. With former Wallaby David Lyons ruled out, Rob McCusker continues at number 8, and Jones’ inclusion at number 10 sees Rhys Priestland relegated to the replacements bench.
There is also a positional switch for Andy Fenby from wing to full-back.
After scoring a brace of tries on his competitive debut against Benetton Treviso, teenage winger George North has retained his place on the right wing, with Lamont on the opposite wing and Jon Davies joining former All Black Regan King at centre.
SCARLETS: Andy Fenby; George North, Regan King, Jon Davies, Sean Lamont; Stephen Jones, Martin Roberts; Phil John, Matthew Rees (capt), Rhys Thomas, Lou Reed, Jonny Fa’amatuainu, Josh Turnbull, Johnathan Edwards, Rob McCusker.
Replacements: Ken Owens, Iestyn Thomas, Peter Edwards, Dominic Day, Nic Cudd, Tavis Knoyle, Gareth Maule, Rhys Priestland.
CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy; Troy Nathan, Niva Ta’auso, Keith Matthews, Fionn Carr; Ian Keatley, Frank Murphy (capt); Brett Wilkinson, Sean Cronin, Jamie Hagan, Michael Swift, Bernie Upton, Michael McCarthy, Ray Ofisa, Mike McComish.
Replacements: Adrian Flavin, Ronan Loughney, Rob Sweeney, Dave Nolan, Shane Conneely, Cillian Willis, Miah Nikora, Tiernan O’Halloran.
Referee: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Tim Hayes, Wayne Davies (both Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Scarlets to win: 2/9; Draw: 25/1; Connacht to win: 7/2
Pre-Match Quotes: Eric Elwood (Connacht) – “We have a massive challenge over the next two weeks, going away to the Scarlets and Glasgow.
“Our away form is well documented and that’s the challenge going forward – to become competitive away from home and give a good account of ourselves.
“With the record we have had over there, they would fancy themselves to win and win with five points. Conversely we are looking to improve our away form, and that’s the way we are going to approach it.
“Last week we were all uptight, with it being the first game and at home. We would have targeted that match, so to get the victory and the bonus point, we are ecstatic.
“The key for us on Saturday is that we need to be in the game. We are looking to put the pressure on the Scarlets and bring our game to them.
“There is a new mentality, and we are going out to win this game, but we have to be competitive and in the game first of all. If we do that, then we would fancy our chances.”
Nigel Davies (Scarlets) – “It’s a very competitive environment here at the moment, which is what we wanted. I made it clear that this week would be the first time we would be not preclude anyone from selection and would pick our starting line-up from the entire squad.
“We planned to bring back some of our senior players for this first home game, after they have had full training and conditioning over the past four weeks and it’s been good to see the spark in the squad on the training field this week.
“First and foremost we have to win games and maybe in the past we’ve tried to win games playing pretty rugby but we don’t always need to do that – and if we were able to shut up shop out in Italy we would have won that game.
“We weren’t able to do that last weekend – we have got to have a game that we can go to when there’s a change in momentum in matches.
“There were just a couple of key moments when things swung Treviso’s way, but we didn’t take control back. We have to learn to adjust and get the right balance in our game to manage these shifts in momentum.
“Connacht are a good team, when you look what they did against the Dragons, they played very well. They are a very capable side.
“But this season, we must look less at the opposition and more about ourselves, our game and what we can bring. And we need to bring a strong defensive game and muscle up more and that has been the focus for us this week after Treviso.
“This is our first home game of the season which is very important to us. We want to show our supporters that we have progressed a lot from the last two seasons and our players are ready to front up.”
Top Scorers – 2010/11 Magners League: Scarlets – Points: Rhys Priestland 18; Tries: George North 2; Connacht – Points: Ian Keatley 25; Tries: Ray Ofisa, Sean Cronin, Ian Keatley 1 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Friday, January 9, 2009 – Connacht 14 Scarlets 17, the Sportsground
Friday, October 30, 2010 – Connacht 16 Scarlets 10, the Sportsground
Sunday, April 25, 2010 – Scarlets 58 Connacht 10, Parc y Scarlets
– The Scarlets slipped up in a 62-point thriller in Treviso last Saturday, but have never begun a campaign with successive losses
– The Scarlets have won just one of their last eight matches in all competitions (58-10 against Connacht at Parc y Scarlets in April)
– Connacht opened the Magners League season with a 40-17 eclipsing of the Newport Gwent Dragons for their first try-scoring bonus point since April 2009
– Connacht have not begun a season with back-to-back wins since the 2006/07 campaign
– Connacht’s only victory in Wales since 2004 was at the Dragons (13-11) in April 2008
– The Scarlets have won three of their last four encounters with Connacht. Meanwhile, Connacht’s most recent win in Llanelli was a 29-21 triumph at Stradey Park in October 2004