Home advantage could prove crucial for Connacht as they tackle the Newport Gwent Dragons in Galway, hoping to post their third win in their opening four RaboDirect PRO12 games.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, September 23
CONNACHT (5th) v NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS (9th), the Sportsground, 7.30pm (live Galway Bay FM)
Team News: Connacht head coach Eric Elwood has announced his team and replacements to face the Newport Gwent Dragons at the Sportsground on Friday.
The province’s starting line-up shows five changes to the side that earned a losing bonus point against Edinburgh last weekend.
In the pack Ray Ofisa comes in at number 8 for the injured George Naoupu. Naoupu came off last weekend with a knee injury and is likely to be out for a number of weeks.
David Gannon will make his first start since his return to the province. The 6ft 6in second row, who has 55 caps for Connacht from his time in Galway between 2005 and 2008, replaces Michael Swift who is unavailable due to illness.
After making his comeback from injury against the Scarlets two weeks ago, Brett Wilkinson slots in at loosehead prop for his first start of the campaign, with Ronan Loughney providing cover from the bench.
There is a new half-back pairing with Frank Murphy at scrum half and Niall O’Connor at out-half. The 24-year-old former Ulster back scored the winning penalty in the westerners’ victory over the Scarlets and crossed for his first Connacht try against Edinburgh.
Brian Tuohy has been selected on the right wing, replacing Mark McCrea. The flying winger scored two tries in Connacht’s comprehensive 37-8 win over Glasgow Warriors last February.
Meanwhile, Pontypool back Geraint O’Driscoll will make the step up to regional rugby for the first time as he starts on the left wing for the Dragons.
The 23-year-old replaces the injured Mike Poole on the left wing, and there are further changes in the backs division after last Sunday’s win over Aironi.
Matthew Pewtner takes over from Adam Hughes on the right wing, Pat Leach moves to outside centre with Ashley Smith returning to the staring line-up beside him, and Joe Bedford starts at scrum half with Wayne Evans on the bench.
The only change to the pack sees Nathan Williams brought in for his first start at loosehead prop. Phil Price is the player to make way.
CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy (capt); Brian Tuohy, Eoin Griffin, Henry Fa’afili, Tiernan O’Halloran; Niall O’Connor, Frank Murphy; Brett Wilkinson, Ethienne Reynecke, Rodney Ah You, David Gannon, Mike McCarthy, John Muldoon, Johnny O’Connor, Ray Ofisa.
Replacements: Adrian Flavin, Ronan Loughney, Dylan Rogers, Michael Kearney, Thomas Anderson, Paul O’Donohoe, Matthew Jarvis, James Loxton.
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS: Martyn Thomas; Matthew Pewtner, Pat Leach, Ashley Smith, Geraint O’Driscoll; Jason Tovey, Joe Bedford; Nathan Williams, Tom Willis (capt), Dan Way, Adam Jones, Rob Sidoli, Lewis Evans, Gavin Thomas, Andrew Coombs.
Replacements: Rhys Buckley, Phil Price, Nathan Buck, Darren Waters, Jevon Groves, Wayne Evans, Tom Riley, Matthew Jones.
Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Leo Colgan, Olly Hodges (both Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 4/11; Draw: 20/1; Newport Gwent Dragons to win: 2/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Eric Elwood (Connacht) – “We were very happy with how the lads had approached the game (against Edinburgh), in the first half in particular, but what killed us was our discipline.
“It was always going to be a tight game…we knew it was going to be tough to break them down. For us, you can’t give any team 10 penalties to two in the first half.
“They got two kickable penalties and they got them, we got two and missed them. That’s harsh on our (number) 10s but that’s the business they’re in. It’s nice when you get them, not so nice when you don’t get them.
“Edinburgh took their kicks, we missed our kicks, and we go in losing 6-0 at half-time. We have all the possession but have nothing to show for it.
“If we had taken chances earlier, had our discipline earlier, then we would have been well in the game – in fact we could have been leading 11-0 at half-time. That’s the frustrating part. Something we could have controlled ourselves, discipline, has cost us the game.
“I spoke to Gavin (Duffy), who was sin-binned for ill-discipline. It’s hard enough winning with 15 players, you can’t win with 14.
“You can’t have that from our captain; he knows that, that’s just the brutal honesty of it. If you concede that amount of penalties and then go down to 14 men you’re just putting pressure on ourselves.
“The one word from me was discipline. That was the winning and losing of the game – discipline.”
Andrew Coombs (Newport Gwent Dragons) – “My debut was against Connacht so it’s appropriate that I’m going back. I missed out on selection last time but it was where I first got the chance to impress the Dragons coaches so I’m really keen to impress again.
“Connacht is a difficult place to go. They’ve a lot of big men who are very difficult to break down and they obviously enjoy playing at home.
“The conditions are going to play a massive part – it’s windy and it’s probably going to be quite wet on Friday so it’s going to be difficult playing conditions.
“We just need to keep hold of the ball for long periods of time, build phases and stress them a bit more.
“Connacht thrive on knowing teams don’t like to play them at home but we have a lot of great leaders in the Dragons at the moment and I’m learning at lot from those guys.”
Top Scorers – 2011/12 RaboDirect PRO12: Connacht – Points: Matthew Jarvis 17; Tries: Rodney Ah You, Mark McCrea, Niall O’Connor 1 each; Newport Gwent Dragons – Points: Jason Tovey 29; Tries: Jason Tovey, Tom Riley, Andrew Coombs 1 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, October 24, 2008 – 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
Thursday, January 6, 2011 – Newport Gwent Dragons 17 Connacht 16, Rodney Parade
– Connacht’s winning start to the RaboDirect PRO12 season came to a halt at Edinburgh last Friday. The westerners’ only defeat at the Sportsground in their last eight matches in all competitions was a 26-12 loss to the Cardiff Blues in April
– The Newport Gwent Dragons moved off the foot in the table courtesy of their 23-14 home win over Aironi last Sunday
– The Dragons have not won on the road since their visit to Aironi in February. The men of Gwent have lost their last six encounters with Irish opponents
– The last six encounters between these two teams have all been won by the home side on the day. The Dragons’ only previous victory on Connacht soil came on their very first visit back in May 2004