The last time Connacht hosted the Dragons in Galway they ran out 19-point winners with George Naoupu and Danie Poolman both touching down. A similar result would provide a real fillip for the province ahead of the festive derby fixtures.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, December 21
CONNACHT (12th) v NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS (8th), the Sportsground, 5pm (live Galway Bay FM/updates on Connacht Twitter page)
Team News: The Connacht team to face the Newport Gwent Dragons in Saturday’s RaboDirect PRO12 tie at the Sportsground has been named.
Head coach Pat Lam has made two changes to the team that lined out in last weekend’s Heineken Cup clash with Toulouse.
Mayo man Gavin Duffy starts on the right wing for his 170th Connacht appearance. The remainder of the back-line is unchanged for the return to PRO12 action.
Nathan White, who missed last Saturday’s game due to illness, represents the only change to the pack. Craig Clarke will captain the side, partnered by Michael Kearney in the second row.
On the bench, the 22-year-old David Heffernan has been called in as replacement hooker for the unavailable Sean Henry. Academy out-half and Eagles captain Jack Carty has also been called up.
Meanwhile, Dragons director of rugby Lyn Jones has made five changes to the team for the trip to Galway where they meet bottom side Connacht.
There is one change to the forwards with newly-signed Cory Hill featuring in the second row alongside skipper Andrew Coombs. They are joined in the front five by Owen Evans, Sam Parry and international prop Francisco Chaparro.
The back row has a familiar look to it with Lewis Evans at blindside flanker, Nic Cudd at openside and British & Irish Lion Toby Faletau at number 8.
Daniel Evans retains his place at full-back and is joined in the back-three by wingers Will Harries and Hallam Amos.
Pat Leach and Ross Wardle, who moves in from the wing, make up the centre pairing for the men of Gwent. Richie Rees steps in at scrum half alongside number 10 Jason Tovey.
There are four changes on the replacements bench with Dan Way, Ieuan Jones, Wayne Evans and Ashley Smith all included.
CONNACHT: Robbie Henshaw; Gavin Duffy, Eoin Griffin, David McSharry, Matt Healy; Dan Parks, Kieran Marmion; Brett Wilkinson, Jason Harris-Wright, Nathan White, Michael Kearney, Craig Clarke (capt), John Muldoon, Jake Heenan, Eoin McKeon.
Replacements: David Heffernan, Denis Buckley, Rodney Ah You, Andrew Browne, George Naoupu, Paul O’Donohoe, Jack Carty, Fionn Carr.
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS: Daniel Evans; Will Harries, Pat Leach, Ross Wardle, Hallam Amos; Jason Tovey, Richie Rees; Owen Evans, Sam Parry, Francisco Chaparro, Andrew Coombs (capt), Cory Hill, Lewis Evans, Nic Cudd, Toby Faletau.
Replacements: Rhys Thomas, Hugh Gustafson, Dan Way, Matthew Screech, Ieuan Jones, Wayne Evans, Steffan Jones, Ashley Smith.
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Gary Conway, Kieran Barry (both Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 4/6; Draw: 18/1; Newport Gwent Dragons to win: 6/5
Pre-Match Quotes: Pat Lam (Connacht) – “We had a shorter week in terms of training sessions this week as we had to give the players a day off on Monday to shake off the ‘flu virus.
“We also had to plan without Craig (Ronaldson), Sean (Henry) and Frank (Murphy) who we lost to injury last week.
“With the forecasted weather conditions, back-three coverage for kicks is crucial so it’s great to bring back the experience and voice of Gavin Duffy.
“The Dragons are an improved side this year. They’re seventh in the table and it will be another tough challenge this week. We know that we need to put them under pressure right from the kick-off.
“If we bring the heart, that was so evident in our Toulouse games, to our roles in the game-plan it will give us a great opportunity to achieve the outcome we all want.”
Andrew Coombs (Newport Gwent Dragons) – “We have to keep our heads up for when we got to Connacht on Saturday and try and take the positives from the (European) defeat to Bordeaux-Bègles because we are bigger than that.
“They were very powerful but in the first half we gave them a platform to play with and gave them too many penalties so they could get their driving lineout working.
“We only have ourselves to blame – you can’t afford to give away three yellow cards. It was a brave effort by us – as it always is with the Dragons – but we are more than that now.”
Top Scorers – 2013/14 RaboDirect PRO12: Connacht – Points: Dan Parks 48; Tries: Matt Healy 3; Newport Gwent Dragons – Points: Jason Tovey 80; Tries: Hallam Amos 2
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Saturday, September 4, 2010 – Connacht 40 Newport Gwent Dragons 17, the Sportsground
Thursday, January 6, 2011 – Newport Gwent Dragons 17 Connacht 16, Rodney Parade
Friday, September 23, 2011 – Connacht 17 Newport Gwent Dragons 13, the Sportsground
Friday, March 30, 2012 – Newport Gwent Dragons 19 Connacht 27, Rodney Parade
Friday, November 23, 2012 – Newport Gwent Dragons 14 Connacht 3, Rodney Parade
Saturday, January 5, 2013 – Connacht 30 Newport Gwent Dragons 11, the Sportsground
– Connacht’s only two victories in their last dozen matches in all competitions have both been away from home in the Heineken Cup, at Zebre and at Toulouse
– Connacht’s only victory in the RaboDirect PRO12 since April was 25-16 at home to Zebre in round 1 this season
– Connacht have lost all three games they have played against Welsh opponents this season
– The Newport Gwent Dragons’ only victory in their last four PRO12 fixtures was 23-8 away at Glasgow Warriors in round 8, this represents their only success on the road since they beat Zebre in Parma in February
– The Welshmen have lost their last three matches against Irish opponents and have won just once away from home at an Irish province since 2004: 16-14 over Ulster at Ravenhill in September 2008
– Each side won its respective home game when the two teams met last season, while the Dragons’ only previous victory in ten previous visits to the Sportsground came on May 1, 2004