Connacht entertain the two Scottish clubs in the RaboDirect PRO12 over the next two weekends, with both Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh making the trip to Galway. But will home advantage prove decisive for Eric Elwood’s men?
RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, February 18
CONNACHT (10th) v GLASGOW WARRIORS (3rd), the Sportsground, 5.30pm (live TG4/BBC ALBA)
Team News: Connacht head coach Eric Elwood has announced the starting line-up to face Glasgow Warriors in Saturday’s RaboDirect PRO12 match at the Sportsground.
Elwood has made two changes to the team that lost in Cardiff last time out, with flanker Ray Ofisa unavailable due to the knee injury he sustained in that bonus point defeat.
Eoghan Grace claims the number 7 jersey in his absence. The young openside earned his first Connacht cap against Ulster at Ravenhill earlier this season after joining Connacht from Exeter Chiefs last summer.
In a second alteration, Henry Fa’afili will start at inside centre in place of David McSharry. Eoin Griffin has been added to the replacements bench.
Though Grace has been missing for large parts the season through injury, he has impressed the province’s management with some outstanding performances for Buccaneers in recent weeks.
Speaking about his call-up, Grace said: “I’m delighted to be selected, it’s been a real rollercoaster of a year so to be given the opportunity to start in front of the home crowd is a huge boost.
“I had a good run at it up in Ulster and it was a huge experience, but I’m really looking forward to the Sportsground crowd this weekend.
“I’m just looking forward to getting stuck in and doing my best. We know what’s ahead of us but we also know that past results have gone our way so there’s a bit of confidence in the squad.”
Connacht Rugby will hold a minute’s silence before the game for former colleague David O’Hara who passed away tragically earlier this week.
O’Hara was a club Community Rugby Officer who worked with the An Ghaeltacht and Oughterard clubs and was also a popular member of Galwegians RFC, playing regularly for their junior and senior sides.
Meanwhile, encouraged by his team’s display in seeing off the Scarlets 19-9 last time out, Glasgow Warriors boss Sean Lineen has kept the personnel changes to a minimum for the visit to the Galway.
The one switch in the starting line-up sees Pat MacArthur replace Dougie Hall at hooker.
Among the replacements will be the league’s current top points scorer Duncan Weir, who was an unused replacement for Scotland in their Six Nations match against Wales last Sunday.
The Glasgow side will be captained by Graeme Morrison, who now sits second in the list of most individual minutes completed by any player in the competition. Al Kellock is in fourth place.
“The guys who played against Scarlets have more than earned the right to try to claim us another win on Saturday,” explained Lineen.
“In terms of the change in the front row, we’ve got four hookers who are all more than capable of filling the jersey, and we want to give them all a window to impress.
“Dougie and Fergus (Thomson) were our two for Scarlets, and now Pat and Finlay (Gillies) have the chance to do the business this weekend.
“Every game is massive for us at this point in the season, and we’re confident the players will be inspired by that level of pressure and opportunity.”
CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy (capt); Fetu’u Vainikolo, Kyle Tonetti, Henry Fa’afili, Tiernan O’Halloran; Niall O’Connor, Paul O’Donohoe; Brett Wilkinson, Adrian Flavin, Ronan Loughney, Michael Swift, Mike McCarthy, John Muldoon, Eoghan Grace, George Naoupu.
Replacements: Ethienne Reynecke, Denis Buckley, Stewart Maguire, David Gannon, Michael Kearney, David Moore, Matthew Jarvis, Eoin Griffin.
GLASGOW WARRIORS: Peter Murchie; Tommy Seymour, Troy Nathan, Graeme Morrison (capt), David Lemi; Ruaridh Jackson, Henry Pyrgos; Ryan Grant, Pat MacArthur, Jon Welsh, Rob Verbakel, Tom Ryder, Rob Harley, Chris Fusaro, Ryan Wilson.
Replacements: Finlay Gillies, Gordon Reid, George Hunter, Nick Campbell, Duncan Weir, Alex Dunbar, Colin Shaw, Calum Forrester.
Referee: Peter Allan (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Leo Colgan, Sean Gallagher (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Jude Quinn (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 4/6; Draw: 18/1; Glasgow Warriors to win: 6/5
Pre-Match Quotes: Eric Elwood (Connacht) – “The Warriors are playing really well this season and credit to them they are third in the table. They are always a difficult team to play against, but on this occasion they arrive full of confidence,” Elwood told the Galway Advertiser.
“We are expecting a very physical game. Glasgow have a great team spirit and they work extremely hard in defence so they are difficult to break down.
“They are honest, direct, and physical so we will have to match them in the physicality stakes, ensure our defence is watertight, and keep our discipline.
“The performance last week against Cardiff was not good enough. We had an opportunity in Cardiff and didn’t take it, but we now have two home games which could prove crucial if we are to achieve our seasonal goals.”
Sean Lineen (Glasgow Warriors) – “The defeat in Connacht last season was our worst performance and result of the campaign, and everyone involved this weekend is desperate to avoid coming away feeling as bad as we did that day.
“We’ve racked up a few good results in the RaboDirect PRO12, and were pleased with the way the team performed in beating Scarlets at Firhill, but we’re at a stage of the campaign where every performance has to be absolutely spot on.
“That’s doubly the case at a tough away venue like Connacht, where you’ve got a passionate home team and crowd against you.
“We’ve not done well in Galway of late, and that’s something we need to put right to ensure we stay in the right area of the RaboDirect PRO12 table.”
Top Scorers – 2011/12 RaboDirect PRO12: Connacht – Points: Niall O’Connor 67; Tries: Gavin Duffy 3; Glasgow Warriors – Points: Duncan Weir 145; Tries: Troy Nathan, Moray Low 2 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, September 19, 2008 – Connacht 15 Glasgow Warriors 8, the Sportsground
Friday, May 15, 2009 – Glasgow Warriors 30 Connacht 9, Firhill Stadium
Friday, October 23, 2009 – Glasgow Warriors 34 Connacht 20, Firhill Stadium
Friday, March 5, 2010 – Connacht 19 Glasgow Warriors 19, the Sportsground
Friday, September 17, 2010 – Glasgow Warriors 17 Connacht 19, Firhill Stadium
Friday, February 18, 2011 – Connacht 37 Glasgow Warriors 8, the Sportsground
– Connacht’s only win in their last 16 matches in all competitions was 9-8 at home to Harlequins in the Heineken Cup on January 20
– Connacht have not won in the RaboDirect PRO12 since the Newport Gwent Dragons visited the Sportsground on September 23
– Glasgow Warriors climbed into third place in the RaboDirect PRO12 courtesy of their 19-9 win over the Scarlets last weekend
– The Warriors have not won away from home since they visited Aironi on November 5
– Connacht are unbeaten in this fixture since Glasgow’s 34-20 win at Firhill Stadium in October 2009. The Warriors’ sole victory in Galway since 2001 was a 40-23 success in April 2007