Connacht will aim to make it two home wins in-a-row in the RaboDirect PRO12 when Edinburgh, a team sitting one place above them in the table, visit the Sportsground on Saturday evening.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, December 1
CONNACHT (9th) v EDINBURGH (8th), the Sportsground, 5pm (live Galway Bay FM)
Team News: The Connacht team to face Edinburgh in Saturday’s RaboDirect PRO12 fixture at the Sportsground has been announced.
Following on from last weekend’s away defeat to the Dragons, Connacht head coach Eric Elwood has made three personnel changes up front.
Brett Wilkinson, who earns his 150th cap for the province on Saturday, will start at loosehead prop while Ronan Loughney comes in on the tighthead side to replace Nathan White.
Andrew Browne, making way for Johnny O’Connor, moves from the back row to the second row. This time, he links up with Michael Kearney in the engine room.
There are no changes to the westerners’ starting back-line while, on the replacements bench, there are a few new faces.
Prop JP Cooney is named among the front row replacements. Garryowen’s Ulster Bank Bateman Cup-winning prop joined Connacht last summer and has made a notable impression for the Connacht Eagles in the British & Irish Cup.
The Athlone-born Daniel Qualter has also been named on the bench. The 20-year-old is in his third year of the Connacht Academy and could make his league debut against Edinburgh on Saturday evening.
Following a lengthy injury spell this season, scrum half Paul O’Donohoe returns to the fray a week ahead of the Heineken Cup round 3 game against Biarritz Olympique.
Team captain Gavin Duffy returned from injury last time out against the Dragons, and is hoping to inspire Connacht during a crucial December spell.
“It is great to be back, especially now as we are heading into a very busy period. (Playing on the wing) is not that different as there is a lot of interchanging with the back-three covering for each other,” admitted Duffy.
“There are areas we need to improve on, such as our set piece, as we know Edinburgh are a formidable team, but we are at our best when we concentrate on getting our own game right.”
Connacht’s last six league fixtures have all been won by the home side on the day. Elwood’s charges will be looking to repeat last season’s win over Edinburgh (26-13) to earn their third home victory of the current campaign.
The Connacht management are monitoring an injury list that includes 17 players at present, with the experienced Michael Swift, Mike McCarthy, John Muldoon, Frank Murphy and George Naoupu among the sidelined players.
Meanwhile, Edinburgh head coach Michael Bradley has pitched five of the club’s returning Scotland internationalists back into the side to play Connacht.
Coming back into the fold are captain Greig Laidlaw at out-half, Matt Scott and Nick De Luca continue their club and country partnership in the centre, Tim Visser steps back onto the left wing and David Denton packs down on the blindside of the scrum.
Denton’s return sees Sean Cox move back to his favoured position at lock to partner Perry Parker who impressed in his first start against the Ospreys last weekend.
Hooker Andy Titterrell replaces the injured Ross Ford (shoulder) and Allan Jacobsen is offered the chance to impress from the outset at loosehead prop.
The remainder of the starting back-line is unchanged with full-back Greig Tonks, winger Tom Brown and scrum half Richie Rees all earning starting berths.
CONNACHT: Robbie Henshaw; Tiernan O’Halloran, Danie Poolman, David McSharry, Gavin Duffy (capt); Dan Parks, Kieran Marmion; Brett Wilkinson, Jason Harris-Wright, Ronan Loughney, Michael Kearney, Andrew Browne, Johnny O’Connor, Willie Faloon, Eoin McKeon.
Replacements: Adrian Flavin, Denis Buckley, JP Cooney, Daniel Qualter, David Gannon, Paul O’Donohoe, Miah Nikora, Fetu’u Vainikolo.
EDINBURGH: Greig Tonks; Tom Brown, Nick De Luca, Matt Scott, Tim Visser; Greig Laidlaw (capt), Richie Rees; Allan Jacobsen, Andy Titterrell, Willem Nel, Perry Parker, Sean Cox, David Denton, Roddy Grant, Stuart McInally.
Replacements: Alun Walker, John Yapp, Lewis Niven, Robert McAlpine, Izak van der Westhuizen, Chris Leck, Gregor Hunter, Dougie Fife.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Leo Colgan, Eddie Hogan O’Connell (both Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 4/5; Draw: 18/1; Edinburgh to win: Evens
Pre-Match Quotes: Eric Elwood (Connacht) – “We have a lot of injuries and when you take into consideration the injuries we had – on top of (Eoin) Griffin, Muldoon and Naoupu – we are struggling on the injury front,” he told the Galway Advertiser.
“(For the Edinburgh game) it is important to make sure we get our own stuff correct to give ourselves a chance this weekend.
“We have an extra sesson on Thursday and it’s about what we can do to the best of our ability and with attention to detail.
“After the disappointment of last Friday night, the key is to get ourselves right and the way we want to play. We know when we can exert pressure on any opposition, we have shown that, but it’s the consistency.
“To exert pressure we have to get the set piece right and once we get the ball in play, we have to hold our structure and work hard to keep our shape in phased attack.”
Michael Bradley (Edinburgh) – “It was very important that we got a win (over the Ospreys) last weekend, we badly needed to get a ‘W’ on the board. It‘s been great for our confidence as we’ve prepared for this game.
“Connacht target the arrival of the visiting Scottish sides because they feel they’ve an excellent chance of winning those games. We’ve talked about that a lot at training this week as something we have to change.
“In the past we might not have brought the Scotland players straight back in and maybe given them the weekend off after the Tests.
“But it’s vital that we build on the momentum from the Ospreys match, and we’ve have picked a strong side with the aim of doing just that.”
Top Scorers – 2012/13 RaboDirect PRO12: Connacht – Points: Miah Nikora 32; Tries: George Naoupu, Tiernan O’Halloran 2 each; Edinburgh – Points: Greig Laidlaw 48; Tries: Tim Visser 9
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, September 11, 2009 – Edinburgh 62 Connacht 13, Murrayfield
Friday, April 2, 2010 – Connacht 22 Edinburgh 21, the Sportsground
Friday, November 26, 2010 – Edinburgh 24 Connacht 19, Murrayfield
Friday, April 1, 2011 – Connacht 27 Edinburgh 23, the Sportsground
Friday, September 16, 2011 – Edinburgh 19 Connacht 14, Murrayfield
Friday, February 24, 2012 – Connacht 26 Edinburgh 13, the Sportsground
– Connacht’s last six RaboDirect PRO12 fixtures have all been won by the home side on the day
– The westerners have won just one of their last five games against Scottish opponents, beating Edinburgh 26-13 in this equivalent match last season
– Edinburgh’s seven-match losing streak in all competitions came to an end with their 23-13 home win over the Ospreys last Friday
– Edinburgh’s sole away victory since January remains the 21-19 win at the Cardiff Blues in early September
– Edinburgh have lost their last 11 encounters with Irish provinces since they beat Munster 29-14 at Murrayfield in September 2011
– The last seven clashes between the two teams have all been won by the home side on the day. Edinburgh’s most recent victory in Galway was back in October 2008