It is a long way back to Connacht’s most recent Magners League win – a 19-17 victory in Glasgow in mid-September. Confidence should be high after successive wins in Europe and beating the high-flying Scarlets would be a real statement of intent from Eric Elwood’s men.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Saturday, February 12
CONNACHT (11th) v SCARLETS (4th), the Sportsground, 7.35pm (live TG4)
Team News: Connacht head coach Eric Elwood has announced his starting line-up to face the Scarlets at the Sportsground on Saturday night.
The Connacht team for the televised clash remains largely similar to the side that beat I Cavalieri Estra in Galway two weeks ago.
With Sean Cronin on Ireland duty, Adrian Flavin will start at hooker. The former Ireland Under-19 and Under-21 forward has just signed a two-year deal to stay with Connacht.
The only other change in the starting pack sees Johnny O’Connor return from injury to captain the side, replacing Shane Conneely at openside flanker.
In the back-line, Troy Nathan comes in for Keith Matthews at inside centre, with Ian Keatley and Frank Murphy named as the starting half-backs.
The westerners have been boosted this week with the re-signing of hooker Flavin, lock Michael Swift and flanker Ray Ofisa, who have all penned contract extensions with the province.
Meanwhile, the Scarlets have centre Regan King, lock Lou Reed and back rowers Johnathan Edwards and Ben Morgan returning from injury for the trip to Galway.
Rob McCusker will also start at blindside flanker, having been released from international duty with Wales and the Scarlets’ young prop Simon Gardiner is fit to take his place on the bench.
Gardiner returns after showing impressive form recently in the Magners League and Heineken Cup, stepping up to cover after the Scarlets lost three tighthead props – Deacon Manu, Rhys Thomas and Peter Edwards – to broken limbs.
In addition, prop and captain Iestyn Thomas and in-form centre Gareth Maule are back in the starting line-up after being rested.
The Scarlets currently have nine senior squad players on international duty, a group of Scarlets Academy and development players with the Wales Under-18s and Under-20s, two with the Wales Sevens squad (Richie Pugh and Lees Rees) and 12 players unavailable through injury.
CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy; Brian Tuohy, Niva Ta’auso, Troy Nathan, Fionn Carr; Ian Keatley, Frank Murphy; Brett Wilkinson, Adrian Flavin, Jamie Hagan, Michael Swift, Mike McCarthy, Andrew Browne, Johnny O’Connor (capt), Mike McComish.
Replacements: Dermot Murphy, Dylan Rogers, Rodney Ah You, Bernie Upton, Ray Ofisa, Cillian Willis, Miah Nikora, Shane Monahan.
SCARLETS: Daniel Evans, Darren Daniel, Regan King, Scott Williams, Gareth Maule; Dan Newton, Martin Roberts; Iestyn Thomas (capt), Emyr Phillips, Rhys Thomas, Vernon Cooper, Lou Reed, Rob McCusker, Johnathan Edwards, Ben Morgan.
Replacements: Rhys Lawrence, Simon Gardiner, Owen Evans, Jonny Fa’amatuainu, Nick Cudd, Gareth Davies, Owen Williams, Nick Reynolds.
Referee: Andrew McMenemy (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Leo Colgan, Jude Quinn (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Seamus Flannery (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 8/15; Draw: 16/1; Scarlets to win: 6/4
Pre-Match Quotes: Eric Elwood (Connacht) – “The team is doing a lot of good stuff. We are competitive, ahead on tries scored and points against – all those are positives, so we are going in the right direction, but unfortunately the league table doesn’t reflect that in terms of points for and against.
“Obviously we are not happy where we are – second last place in the table – albeit we have been a lot more competitive as reflected in our bonus points.
“However, we believe in what we are doing and that the results will come sooner rather than later. As a result the next 10 games are vital to us, starting with the Scarlets.
“There is history with the games we have left – we lost narrowly to Scarlets, won against the Warriors, and narrowly lost to the Ospreys – so now we have an opportunity to turn those teams over.”
Nigel Davies (Scarlets) – “This is a critical period in our season now, we’ve done well to get to where we have got to and we want to stay (in the top-four). The next three games – Connacht away this weekend and then our two home games (Ulster and Edinburgh) are absolutely critical for our ambitions this year.
“We know we need to build momentum in Connacht and then keep that going into the home games. It’s not going to be an easy place to go to and we have to bring the right tough mental attitude.
“Our forwards are going to have to play a big part in this performance against them, but they are more than capable of doing that.
“We have to flip the mentality that it’s a tough place to go and get this team to look forward to going there and the challenge it will present.
“They may be near the bottom of the league, but we know that Connacht will be very competitive, committed and will want to get an upset.”
Top Scorers – 2010/11 Magners League: Connacht – Points: Ian Keatley 123; Tries: Fionn Carr 4; Scarlets – Points: Rhys Priestland 126; Tries: Jonathan Davies 7
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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, 2009 – Connacht 16 Scarlets 10, the Sportsground
Sunday, April 25, 2010 – Scarlets 58 Connacht 10, Parc y Scarlets
Saturday, September 11, 2010 – Scarlets 35 Connacht 33, Parc y Scarlets
– Connacht have won their last two matches against Bayonne and I Cavalieri Estra in the Amlin Challenge Cup
– Connacht have not won in the Magners League since round 3 when they beat Glasgow Warriors 19-17 at Firhill Stadium on September 17
– The Scarlets’ only defeat in their last five Magners League games was a 60-17 loss at the Ospreys in December
– The Welshmen have lost on their last eight visits to Ireland since beating Connacht 17-14 in Galway in January 2009
– Connacht have won just one of their last five encounters with the Scarlets, beating them 16-10 at the Sportsground in October 2009