Having slid to the bottom of the RaboDirect PRO12 table, Connacht have plenty of ground to make up and their recovery mission begins with the visit of the Scarlets to the Sportsground.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, November 23
CONNACHT (12th) v SCARLETS (7th), the Sportsground, 5pm (live Galway Bay FM)
Team News: The Connacht team to face Scarlets in Saturday’s RaboDirect PRO12 tie at the Sportsground has been named.
Eoghan Masterson has been handed his first cap by head coach Pat Lam and starts at number 8. A month after signing for the Connacht Academy, the 20-year-old will make his senior debut at the Sportsground.
Hailing from Portlaoise where he attended the CBS, Masterson represented the Ireland Under-20s in the 2013 Six Nations game against Scotland.
While his mother is from Westport, it is his Scottish father that enabled Masterson to also represent Scotland U-20s in last summer’s IRB Junior World Championship. The young back rower impressed the Connacht coaches in last weekend’s ‘A’ interprovincial clash with Ulster Ravens.
This weekend’s match against the Scarlets is Michael Swift’s 250th for Connacht. His second row partner Craig Clarke captains the side on Saturday.
In the back-line, Galway man Eoin Griffin makes a welcome return to the centre, while Darragh Leader moves to the right wing. Craig Ronaldson has been selected at out-half.
Meanwhile, the Scarlets make a trip across the Irish Sea to Galway with a team close to the one that won against Ulster in their last PRO12 fixture earlier this month.
Having handed opportunities to a number of new Scarlets in the past fortnight in their LV= Cup fixtures, a group of senior players return to action in this vital league game refreshed from a break in match day action.
With 10 Scarlets called up currently on international duty, head coach Simon Easterby said he will be looking for leadership from his core group of more experienced Scarlets to put in a big performance against Connacht.
In-form prop Phil John captains the side in the absence of injured skipper Rob McCusker (calf strain), with the experience in the back row that proved successful against Ulster returning in the form of Aaron Shingler, Josh Turnbull and Sione Timani.
There is a return to the centre partnership of Gareth Maule and Adam Warren and a second start in a Scarlets shirt for new New Zealand utility back Frazier Climo.
The talented back-three player joined the Scarlets two weeks ago from ITM Cup side Taranaki and is widely renowned for his strong left-footed kicking skills.
CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy; Darragh Leader, Eoin Griffin, David McSharry, Matt Healy; Craig Ronaldson, Kieran Marmion; Brett Wilkinson, Sean Henry, Nathan White, Michael Swift, Craig Clarke (capt), Aly Muldowney, Jake Heenan, Eoghan Masterson.
Replacements: Jason Harris-Wright, Ronan Loughney, Rodney Ah You, Michael Kearney, George Naoupu, Frank Murphy, Dan Parks, Fionn Carr.
SCARLETS: Gareth Owen; Frazier Climo, Gareth Maule, Adam Warren, Nic Reynolds; Aled Thomas, Gareth Davies; Phil John (capt), Kirby Myhill, Jacobie Adriaanse, Jake Ball, George Earle, Aaron Shingler, Josh Turnbull, Sione Timani.
Replacements: Darran Harris, Shaun Hopkins, Ian Jones, Jo Synman, Dan Thomas, Aled Davies, Josh Lewis, Kristian Phillips.
Referee: Matteo Liperini (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Paul Haycock, Olly Hodges (both Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 4/6; Draw: 18/1; Scarlets to win: 6/5
Pre-Match Quotes: Pat Lam (Connacht) – “Eoghan Masterson arrived here during the summer on trial with the Academy and since then, the coaching staff have been so impressed with his professionalism both on and off the field.
“He has worked hard on his game and has truly earned his opportunity and first senior Rabo game. I believe game-time at this level is an essential part of a young player’s development once they do the hard work and it’s great to see players like Eoghan, Darragh (Leader), Jake (Heenan), Craig (Ronaldson) and Matt (Healy) all following in the footsteps of Robbie (Henshaw) and Kieran (Marmion).
“The recent break really allowed the team to recoup, and we needed that especially as we know the Scarlets present a tough challenge.
“They had a good win against Ulster the last time out and they’ve been consistently playing at the top end of the table. Like all our games against Welsh sides, it’s sure to be a physical encounter.
“Training this week has been good despite the disruption of losing Danie Poolman to injury on Thursday and only getting Eoin McKeon back training late in the week.
“But there was a great buzz at training and everyone is raring to go. We’ve prepared well and are looking forward to this fixture.
“We need to keep improving. In the last four or five games we have pushed teams really close. We have shown a lot of heart and commitment, and also created enough opportunities to win all of those games but we were not clinical enough.
“However, there is a real doggedness and determination to get off the bottom of the table and we want to start climbing, commencing tomorrow against the Scarlets.”
Simon Easterby (Scarlets) – “Losing additional players to international duty does impact our league challenge, but we have to deal with that and seeing the number of young players we have called up with Wales as well as our more senior players is a positive for the future.
“It’s also testament to the work Danny Wilson, our forwards coach, has been doing with the pack and the amount of exposure to top level rugby some of our young forwards have had so far.
“Connacht have produced some good rugby this season despite their position in the table and gave Leinster a real scare at the RDS – they also ran Sarries close in the Heineken, so we know we cannot afford to be in the slightest bit off our guard.
“They are a good outfit and certainly in this period have an advantage as they don’t lose so many players from their side to international duty.
“That allows them to keep their continuity and we know that there can always be tricky conditions in Galway and I am sure Dan Parks will be mastering the conditions on Saturday evening.
“This time last season we got some important away wins and put in big performances in places we have traditionally found it difficult to get results, including Munster, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Connacht.
“We can’t afford to slip levels in our performance. We have a big two months ahead of us now and let’s hope we can produce the same kind of rugby we saw against Ulster earlier this month when the players were outstanding.”
Top Scorers – 2013/14 RaboDirect PRO12: Connacht – Points: Dan Parks 43; Tries: Matt Healy, Kieran Marmion 2 each; Scarlets – Points: Steve Shingler 38; Tries: Gareth Davies 3
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Saturday, September 11, 2010 – Scarlets 35 Connacht 33, Parc y Scarlets
Saturday, February 12, 2011 – Connacht 17 Scarlets 13, the Sportsground
Saturday, September 10, 2011 – Connacht 13 Scarlets 11, the Sportsground
Friday, March 2, 2012 – Scarlets 38 Connacht 10, Parc y Scarlets
Saturday, September 15, 2012 – Connacht 11 Scarlets 24, the Sportsground
Friday, February 8, 2013 – Scarlets 25 Connacht 15, Parc y Scarlets
– Connacht’s only victory in the RaboDirect PRO12 this season came in the opening game at home to Zebre, 25-16
– Welsh regions have won on five of their last seven visits to Galway. The Scarlets have lost only one of their last four PRO12 fixtures: 17-12 at home to Glasgow Warriors in round 5
– The Welshmen have been defeated on their last four visits to Ireland in all competitions since beating Munster 13-6 in Cork in the PRO12 twelve months ago
– The Scarlets have won their last three encounters with Connacht since the westerners’ 13-11 victory at the Sportsground in September 2011