The redeveloped Sportsground will get its first airing of undoubtedly Connacht’s biggest season yet when the Scarlets return to the scene of their 17-13 defeat from last February.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, September 10
CONNACHT (6th) v SCARLETS (4th), the Sportsground, 3.15pm (live TG4/Galway Bay FM)
Team News: Connacht head coach Eric Elwood has selected an unchanged team for the province’s opening home match of the season against the Scarlets.
He has kept faith with the side that started last weekend’s hard-fought away win over Benetton Treviso, while there are two alterations in the replacements.
Prop Brett Wilkinson has recovered from the hamstring injury that ruled him out of Rugby World Cup contention. The 27-year-old loosehead, who has earned 118 caps for Connacht to date, replaces Denis Buckley on the bench.
The Ireland Under-20-capped Stewart Maguire will be hoping to make his first competitive appearance for the province. He comes in for Dylan Rogers as the reserve tighthead prop.
Meanwhile, with five homegrown Scarlets making their Rugby World Cup debuts on the big stage out in Wellington this weekend, the next generation are stepping up in regional colours.
Another young Scarlet who is making an impression, the 20-year-old Swansea winger Liam Williams, will make his first start at this level.
There is also a debut for new signing Ruki Tipuna. Paperwork from New Zealand arrived on Thursday after sustained chasing from the Scarlets to clear the region’s new scrum half for duty.
Tipuna, 28, has played provincial rugby for Bay of Plenty and Wellington and lined out for the New Zealand Maori and Sevens sides.
A former Newport Gwent Dragons duo will make up the centre partnership with newly-appointed Scarlets vice-captain Gareth Maule returning from a shoulder injury.
He slots in alongside the Lampeter-born Rhodri Gomer-Davies, who has been in very good form and says he is delighted to be playing for his native Scarlets.
CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy (capt); Mark McCrea, Eoin Griffin, Henry Fa’afili, Tiernan O’Halloran; Matthew Jarvis, Frank Murphy; Ronan Loughney, Adrian Flavin, Rodney Ah You, Michael Swift, Mike McCarthy, John Muldoon, Ray Ofisa, George Naoupu.
Replacements: Ethienne Reynecke, Brett Wilkinson, Stewart Maguire, Thomas Anderson, Johnny O’Connor, Paul O’Donohoe, Niall O’Connor, Brian Tuohy.
SCARLETS: Daniel Evans; Lee Williams, Rhodri Gomer Davies, Gareth Maule, Liam Williams; Dan Newton, Ruki Tipuna; Iestyn Thomas (capt), Emyr Phillips, Rhys Thomas, Aaron Shingler, Dominic Day, Rob McCusker, Josh Turnbull, Ben Morgan.
Replacements: Kirby Myhill, Phil John, Simon Gardiner, Lou Reed, Johnathan Edwards, Rhodri Williams, Aled Thomas, Adam Warren.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Leo Colgan, Peter Roche (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Dermot Moloney (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 4/7; Draw: 20/1; Scarlets to win: 11/8
Pre-Match Quotes: Eric Elwood (Connacht) – “The expectations are there, there is pressure, there’s a buzz around Galway, Season Ticket sales are up, the new stand is taking shape and people are looking forward to it.
“But it’s the pressure we want, we want to be there, we want to be playing the best, competing at the highest level. We’re trying to build the brand and a lot of work has gone in on and off the pitch.
“We’re hoping people will come and roar and help us on the field with support from the terraces.
“I’m absolutely delighted with the win against Treviso last time out. It was our first game against a team that doesn’t lose that often at home – they won eight out of 11 home games last season.
“So we showed great character and resilience. They’re very physical but I was happy with the way we defended the set pieces and driving maul. We didn’t allow them to score a try, which was also pleasing.”
Nigel Davies (Scarlets) – “I was comfortable with that result and performance (against Aironi), we managed the conditions well which we’ll have to do that again out in Connacht, and we finished by far the stronger side maintaining our intensity for 80 minutes.
“Of course there are areas of accuracy that we need to improve on, but I was far happier by the way we finished the game and dealt with the conditions and circumstances well.
“Connacht had a good win out in Treviso, they will be confident because they always win the majority of their matches at home.
“But we’ve focused on the first two fixtures of the season with this group of players and we’re ready for it – we have to match them physically and if we can do that then we have a chance.”
Top Scorers – 2011/12 RaboDirect PRO12: Connacht – Points: Matthew Jarvis 6; Tries: Rodney Ah You 1; Scarlets – Points: Dan Newton 19; Tries: Rhys Thomas, Andy Fenby 1 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Saturday, September 13, 2008 – Scarlets 45 Connacht 3, Stradey Park
Friday, January 9, 2009 – Connacht 14 Scarlets 17, the Sportsground
Friday, October 30, 2009 – Connacht 16 Scarlets 10, the Sportsground
Sunday, April 25, 2010 – Scarlets 58 Connacht 10, Parc y Scarlets
Saturday, September 11, 2010 – Scarlets 35 Connacht 33, Parc y Scarlets
Saturday, February 12, 2011 – Connacht 17 Scarlets 13, the Sportsground
– The last four matches between these two teams have all been won by the home side on the day, whilst the Scarlets have not been victorious at the Sportsground since January 2009
– Connacht beat Benetton Treviso 11-9 in Italy last weekend in the opening round of the RaboDirect PRO12 but have not won their opening two fixtures in the competition since the 2005/06 season
– Connacht’s 26-12 defeat at the Sportsground in their last home match ended a six-game home winning run.
– The Scarlets also beat Italian opposition in round 1, overcoming Aironi 32-9 at Parc y Scarlets
– The Welshmen have won their last three matches in the league but are winless in their last seven encounters against opponents from Ireland