Having emerged with just one losing bonus point from their two interprovincial ties over the festive period, Connacht are hoping to take out their frustration on the second-from-bottom Dragons at the Sportsground.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, January 5
CONNACHT (10th) v NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS (11th), the Sportsground, 5pm (live Galway Bay FM)
Team News: The Connacht team to face the Newport Gwent Dragons in Saturday’s RaboDirect PRO12 fixture at the Sportsground has been named.
Head coach Eric Elwood has made two personnel changes and two positional switches to the side that played Leinster last Saturday.
The province has been boosted by the return from injury of Fetu’u Vainikolo. The Tongan winger is the only change to the back-line and is named alongside Robbie Henshaw and Danie Poolman in a strong back-three.
The front row trio of Denis Buckley, Jason Harris-Wright and stand-in captain Nathan White remains in place, while Mike McCarthy comes into the second row to partner Michael Swift.
Meanwhile, in the back row, versatile forward George Naoupu returns to his regular number 8 position and Eoin McKeon is moved to openside flanker.
Connacht’s first game of 2013 sees them taking on the team immediately below them in the league table. Tickets are still available from the Connacht Branch offices and www.ticketmaster.ie.
Meanwhile, speedsters Tonderai Chavhanga and Adam Hughes both return to the Dragons’ starting line-up for their round 13 encounter with Connacht in Galway.
Scrum half Wayne Evans has also been included in the men of Gwent’s selected side. Jonathan Evans will be joined on the bench by centre Ashley Smith.
The Dragons forwards are again rewarded for their impressive performances in the festive Welsh derby matches, with all eight holding onto their starting berths.
There are no other changes in personnel for the Welsh region who lost 14-3 at home to the Ospreys in a refixed league match on New Year’s Eve.
CONNACHT: Robbie Henshaw; Danie Poolman, Eoin Griffin, David McSharry, Fetu’u Vainikolo; Dan Parks, Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, Jason Harris-Wright, Nathan White (capt), Michael Swift, Mike McCarthy, Andrew Browne, Eoin McKeon, George Naoupu.
Replacements: Ethienne Reynecke, Brett Wilkinson, Ronan Loughney, Michael Kearney, Eoghan Grace, Paul O’Donohoe, Matthew Jarvis, Tiernan O’Halloran.
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS: Hallam Amos; Tom Prydie, Adam Hughes, Andy Tuilagi, Tonderai Chavhanga; Lewis Robling, Wayne Evans; Phil Price, Sam Parry, Dan Way, Andrew Coombs, Rob Sidoli, Lewis Evans (capt), Nic Cudd, Toby Faletau.
Replacements: Hugh Gustafson, Owen Evans, Nathan Buck, Adam Jones, Tom Brown, Jonathan Evans, Ashley Smith, Jack Dixon.
Referee: Andrew McMenemy (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Mark Patton, Kevin Beggs (both Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 3/10; Draw: 20/1; Newport Gwent Dragons to win: 5/2
Pre-Match Quotes: Eric Elwood (Connacht) – “This game against the Dragons is a vitally important one for us. We’re side by side at the bottom of the table so this is a huge game for both teams.
“Obviously, with us at home, the pressure is on us to win it. The key thing is that we learn from the mistakes of the last two derby matches that we’ve had (against Munster and Leinster).
“And the main focus for us this weekend is about getting everything right for ourselves to secure the win. We have to do our job on the pitch.
“But, as always, we look forward to people coming to support us at home. It’s the first game of the 2013 year and we really appreciate the support we’ve had since the start of the season.
“For us this is a massive game. And we need people’s support because it truly makes a difference for us and the boys when the crowd turn up and make noise.”
Lewis Evans (Newport Gwent Dragons) – “If (Dan) Parks is playing, they have got an outstanding 10 who can kick them into good positions so we can’t afford any indiscipline,” he told the South Wales Argus.
“We need to pin them back otherwise it’s going to be very tough. Connacht are a bit of a bogey side but the fact of the matter is we need to get a win over there.
“Last season we pushed them very close and, again, should have won but didn’t. We did come away with a bonus point and if we can go one step better that would be a nice start to 2013.
“Like against the Blues on Boxing Day, this (Connacht) game can be considered an eight-point game.
“We know how important the game is and need to play like we did against the Ospreys in terms of having a lot of positive moments in the scrums and lineouts. Connacht are similar to us in that they’re a dogged side with some flair, so we have to fight fire with fire.”
Top Scorers – 2012/13 RaboDirect PRO12: Connacht – Points: Dan Parks 52; Tries: George Naoupu, Tiernan O’Halloran, Danie Poolman 2 each; Newport Gwent Dragons – Points: Tom Prydie 100; Tries: Dan Evans 4
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
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
– Connacht have slipped to four straight RaboDirect PRO12 defeats. Their latest loss saw them go down to Leinster 17-0 last Saturday, the second time this season they have failed to tally a point on a visit to a fellow Irish province
– The westerners have lost all four of their encounters with Welsh regions so far this season
– The Newport Gwent Dragons have won just one of their last seven PRO12 matches, 14-3 at home to Connacht on November 23 last
– The Dragons’ only away win in any competition since March was 33-0 at Mogliano in the Amlin Challenge Cup on December 8
– The Dragons have visited the Sportsground on nine previous occasions and won only once, 32-14 in May 2004 on their first ever visit to the Galway venue