Connacht will hope to end a disappointing run of results when they travel to face the Newport Gwent Dragons, whom they defeated in the opening game of the season. A victory here would see them climb above the Welsh side in the table.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Thursday, January 6
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS (10th) v CONNACHT (11th), Rodney Parade, 7.35pm (live RTE Two/S4C)
Team News: Fionn Carr and Sean Cronin will return to the Connacht team for their Magners League encounter with the Newport Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade.
Carr and Cronin are back in the starting line-up for Connacht’s third Magners League match in 11 days.
Cronin, who missed the Leinster game as part of the IRFU Player Welfare Programme, replaces Adrian Flavin at hooker.
In a reshuffled back-line, Carr takes over from Brian Tuohy on the left wing. Ian Keatley has been moved to full-back, with Troy Nathan now on the right wing and Eoin Griffin, Connacht’s lone try scorer against Leinster, joining stand-in captain Keith Matthews at centre.
Back rower Mike McComish has recovered from flu and will start Thursday’s game on the replacements bench.
Regular skipper John Muldoon heads the province’s injury list, with Gavin Duffy (knee), Ronan Loughney (hamstring) and Ezra Taylor (hand) also currently sidelined.
Meanwhile, the Newport Gwent Dragons have finalised their team for Thursday’s televised tie.
There are a handful of changes to the Dragons side that lost 21-15 to the Scarlets last weekend. Jonathan Evans comes in at scrum half, with new signing Mike Petri providing back-up on the bench.
Locks Rob Sidoli and Adam Jones both return to the starting line-up, and Lewis Evans will start at blindside flanker.
Hugh Gustafson, Ben Castle and team captain Tom Willis all start in the front row, while Gavin Thomas and Toby Faletau retain their places in the back row.
Luke Charteris drops to the bench where he is joined by the returning Andrew Coombs. Steve Jones, Pat Palmer and Phil Price provide the front row cover.
In the backs, Will Harries continues at full-back, Adam Hughes and Aled Brew fill the wing berths, and Tom Riley partners Ashley Smith at centre.
Top scorer Jason Tovey lines out at out-half, with Pat Leach and Matthew Jones among the replacements.
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS: Will Harries, Adam Hughes, Tom Riley, Ashley Smith, Aled Brew, Jason Tovey, Jonathan Evans; Hugh Gustafson, Tom Willis (capt), Ben Castle, Adam Jones, Rob Sidoli, Lewis Evans, Gavin Thomas, Toby Faletau.
Replacements: Steve Jones, Pat Palmer, Phil Price, Luke Charteris, Andrew Coombs, Matthew Jones, Mike Petri, Pat Leach.
CONNACHT: Ian Keatley; Troy Nathan, Eoin Griffin, Keith Matthews (capt), Fionn Carr; Miah Nikora, Cillian Willis; Brett Wilkinson, Sean Cronin, Jamie Hagan, Michael Swift, Mike McCarthy, Andrew Browne, Johnny O’Connor, Eoin McKeon.
Replacements: Adrian Flavin, Rodney Ah You, Dylan Rogers, Bernie Upton, Mike McComish, Frank Murphy, Niva Ta’auso, Brian Tuohy.
Referee: Alan Lewis (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: David Bodilly, Greg Morgan (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Tony Rowlands (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Newport Gwent Dragons to win: 2/9; Draw: 22/1; Connacht to win: 3/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Eric Elwood (Connacht) – “We were disappointed (to lose to Leinster) at the weekend. We did a lot of good things in the first 20 minutes but we didn’t take out chances.
“But to be fair, I thought Eoin McKeon had a terrific game and I thought Andrew Browne was outstanding.
“With his prominence in attack and in defence, Brownie has really stepped up to the plate in the last couple of weeks and I actually paid tribute to him today. He was outstanding.
“I also thought Eoin Griffin did really well on the wing as well and it is great to see. They are three of our own young lads so that is positive, because we have always said that if they are good enough they will get their opportunity.”
Paul Turner (Newport Gwent Dragons) – “Connacht are a good side, they proved that. We had a hell of a drubbing over there first game of the season.
“We made all sorts of excuses after, but it wasn’t a good day for us – that’s for sure – and we have got to try and redress the balance this week.
“They’re well coached, they’ve got some good structures and they’ve got some big forwards, so we’re going to have to try and dismantle that and play our own game.
“It’s vital that we start chasing the pack just ahead of us, which is your Glasgows, your Edinburghs and they’re within sight of us.”
Top Scorers – 2010/11 Magners League: Newport Gwent Dragons – Points: Jason Tovey 54; Tries: Will Harries, Adam Hughes, Aled Brew 3 each; Connacht – Points: Ian Keatley 112; Tries: Fionn Carr 4
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, April 18, 2008 – Newport Gwent Dragons 11 Connacht 13, Rodney Parade
Friday, April 3, 2009 – Connacht 39 Newport Gwent Dragons 17, the Sportsground
Sunday, April 26, 2009 – Newport Gwent Dragons 27 Connacht 14, Rodney Parade
Saturday, October 3, 2009 – Newport Gwent Dragons 23 Connacht 10, Rodney Parade
Wednesday, March 17, 2010 – Connacht 16 Newport Gwent Dragons 3, the Sportsground
Saturday, September 4, 2010 – Connacht 40 Newport Gwent Dragons 17, the Sportsground
– The Newport Gwent Dragons’ only win in their last six matches in all competitions was a 20-6 victory at home to Munster in the Magners League on November 26
– The Dragons have won their last three games at Rodney Parade. The last seven Irish sides to visit the venue have all lost
– Connacht have lost their last eight encounters in all competitions since their 16-13 victory over Bayonne on October 15
– The westerners have won just once away from home in the Magners League since April 2008, beating Glasgow Warriors 19-17 at Firhill Stadium in September
– The last five clashes between the two sides have all been won by the home team on the day
– Connacht beat the Dragons 40-17 in round 1 of this season’s league, but have not achieved a season’s double over the Welsh region since the 2007/08 campaign