After going close to beating defending league champions Munster, Connacht’s search for their only their second RaboDirect PRO12 win since September moves on to Newport where they face an in-form Dragons outfit.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, March 30
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS (8th) v CONNACHT (10th), Rodney Parade, 7.15pm
Team News: Connacht head coach Eric Elwood has announced his team to face the Newport Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade on Friday night
Following last weekend’s heroics against play-off hopefuls Munster, the westerners have opted to make the minimum of changes with just one switch in the back-line.
Tongan international Fetu’u Vainikolo starts on the right wing with Kyle Tonetti moving to his more familiar centre berth in place of the injured Eoin Griffin. Griffin picked up a knee injury in the interprovincial clash last Saturday.
The successful half-back pairing of Frank Murphy and Miah Nikora continues. Nikora kicked 11 of Connacht’s 16 points last weekend.
Tonetti links up with Henry Fa’afili in the centre with Tiernan O’Halloran, Vainikolo and captain Gavin Duffy completing the province’s backs division.
The pack remains the same with Ireland Wolfhounds Brett Wilkinson and Ronan Loughney combining with try scorer Ethienne Reynecke in a front row unit that impressed against Munster.
Mike McCarthy and Michael Swift make up the second row and the Academy’s Michael Kearney continues his rise through the ranks at blindside flanker, joined by the abrasive Ray Ofisa and talismanic John Muldoon in the back row.
Meanwhile, all three of the Dragons’ Wales Grand Slam stars are set to start as the men of Gwent take on Connacht in the league.
It will be the first return to regional action for RBS Player of the Championship Dan Lydiate and his back row compatriot Toby Faletau as they join captain Luke Charteris on the pitch – the first time the trio will have played together this season in regional colours.
Centre Andy Tuilagi has recovered from a dead leg and links up with Ashley Smith in the centre, with Tonderai Chavhanga, the Dragons’ top try scorer in this season’s league with five, starting on the right wing.
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS: Will Harries; Tonderai Chavanga, Andy Tuilagi, Ashley Smith, Aled Brew; Lewis Robling, Wayne Evans; Phil Price, Steve Jones, Nathan Buck, Luke Charteris (capt), Rob Sidoli, Dan Lydiate, Jevon Groves, Toby Faletau
Replacements: Sam Parry, Nathan Williams, Dan Way, Lewis Evans, Tom Brown, Joe Bedford, Adam Hughes, Steffan Jones.
CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy (capt); Fetu’u Vainikolo, Kyle Tonetti, Henry Fa’afili, Tiernan O’Halloran; Miah Nikora, Frank Murphy; Brett Wilkinson, Ethienne Reynecke, Ronan Loughney, Michael Swift, Mike McCarthy, Michael Kearney, Ray Ofisa, John Muldoon.
Replacements: Adrian Flavin, Finlay Bealham, Rodney Ah You, Eoin McKeon, Eoghan Grace, Paul O’Donohoe, Matthew Jarvis, David McSharry.
Referee: Giuseppe Vivarini (Italy)
Assistant Referees: James Jones, David Jones (both Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Newport Gwent Dragons to win: 2/9; Draw: 25/1; Connacht to win: 3/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Tonderai Chavhanga (Newport Gwent Dragons) – “I feel it’s gone reasonably well and my team-mates have been putting me into space and have given me the opportunities. It’s always nice to get over the try-line.
“The try against the Blues was more about the moment, it was something we made and it was fortunate it was me, it could have been anyone else.
“Now we’ve got three home games left and an away derby against the Ospreys. We’ll be looking to capitalise on our home advantage and no one needs extra motivation for a derby game.
“We’ve got to put on a good display for the crowds and stick to the structures. What happens with the Blues above us happens, we’ve got to make sure our destiny is in our own hands.”
Top Scorers – 2011/12 RaboDirect PRO12: Newport Gwent Dragons – Points: Jason Tovey 133; Tries: Tonderai Chavhanga 5; Connacht – Points: Niall O’Connor 86; Tries: Tiernan O’Halloran 4
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Friday, September 23, 2011 – Connacht 17 Newport Gwent Dragons 13, the Sportsground
– The Newport Gwent Dragons have won four of their last five matches in the RaboDirect PRO12. Their only defeat at Rodney Parade in any competition in 2012 was a 24-14 loss to Munster in the PRO12 on March 3
– The Dragons’ lone victory over an Irish province since January 2011 was a 22-9 success at home to Ulster on September 30
– Connacht have won just one RaboDirect PRO12 encounter since round four, beating Edinburgh 26-13 at home on February 24
– Connacht have not won away from home in the league since a trip to Benetton Treviso during the opening weekend of this season
– The westerners’ only victory in Wales since 2004 was a 13-11 triumph over the Dragons at Rodney Parade in April 2008. The last seven meetings between the two teams have all been won by the home side on the day