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RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Scarlets v Connacht

RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Scarlets v Connacht

A first victory in Llanelli since October 2004 and a first ever season’s double over the Scarlets are the prizes on offer for Connacht in round 17 of the RaboDirect PRO12.

RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, March 2

SCARLETS (7th) v CONNACHT (10th), Parc y Scarlets, 7.30pm (live Galway Bay FM)

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Team News: Connacht head coach Eric Elwood has named his team and replacements to face the Scarlets in Friday’s RaboDirect PRO12 tie in Llanelli.

There are a number of personnel changes to the starting team with Brett Wilkinson and Mike McCarthy unavailable due to their involvement with Ireland’s Six Nations squad.

This gives Peter Borlase his first taste of action for Connacht at tighthead prop and Ronan Loughney, earning his 100th cap for the province, moves back to the loosehead side of the scrum.

There is a first cap for Academy back rower Dave Heffernan. The 6ft 1in, 104kg former Ireland Under-20 international has played in all of the Connacht ‘A’ side’s games this season and has impressed with outstanding performances for Buccaneers in the Ulster Bank League.

The Ballina-born 20-year-old joined the Connacht Academy this season having transferred his studies from UCD to NUIG and is known for his ferocious ball-carrying and workrate across the pitch.

Heffernan joins fellow year one Academy player Michael Kearney in the forwards. He has featured in nine of Connacht’s matches so far and the versatile Irish Colleges second row has certainly made an impression this season with big performances against the likes of Leinster and the Ospreys.

Eoin Griffin and David McSharry renew the centre partnership last seen in action in Connacht’s Heineken Cup match against Gloucester, while Miah Nikora replaces this injured Niall O’Connor at out-half.

Speaking about the inclusion in the squad of three Academy players (Heffernan, Kearney and Denis Buckley), Academy Manager Nigel Carolan said: “It’s great to see the guys getting the reward for their hard work and dedication.

“Eric has always said that if players are good enough and patient enough they’ll get their chances, so it’s great to see these opportunities open up for them.”

Meanwhile, the Scarlets welcome back five of their Wales internationals into the starting line-up for his crucial home fixture.

Stephen Jones starts at out-half with Wales squad colleagues Liam Williams (winger), Rhodri Jones (prop), Lou Reed (lock) and Aaron Shingler (lock) are all back in their regional jerseys after being released back to the Scarlets on Tuesday this week.

Wales’ Under-20 captain, hooker Kirby Myhill, is back with the region and will take his place on the hosts’ replacements bench on Friday.

England and Scarlets number 8 Ben Morgan arrived back with the Scarlets for training on Thursday. But he has not been passed fit by the Scarlets physios having picked up a calf strain in training with England this week.

SCARLETS: Dan Newton; Liam Williams, Gareth Maule (capt), Adam Warren, Andy Fenby; Stephen Jones, Liam Davies; Rhodri Jones, Emyr Phillips, Deacon Manu, Lou Reed, Aaron Shingler, Josh Turnbull, Johnathan Edwards, Kieran Murphy.

Replacements: Kirby Myhill, Phil John, Peter Edwards, Dominic Day, Mat Gilbert, Gareth Davies, Nick Reynolds, Viliame Iongi.

CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy (capt); Fetu’u Vainikolo, Eoin Griffin, David McSharry, Tiernan O’Halloran; Miah Nikora, Frank Murphy; Ronan Loughney, Adrian Flavin, Peter Borlase, Michael Swift, Michael Kearney, David Heffernan, Ray Ofisa, George Naoupu.

Replacements: Ethienne Reynecke, Denis Buckley, Stewart Maguire, John Muldoon, Eoghan Grace, David Moore, Matthew Jarvis, Kyle Tonetti.

Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Tim Hayes, Greg Morgan (both Wales)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Scarlets to win: 1/8; Draw: 25/1; Connacht to win: 5/1

Pre-Match Quotes: Ronan Loughney (Connacht) – “It was a good performance all-round (against Edinburgh), we had some good attacking phases alright.

“It’s fair to say we’ve a few things to work on, a couple of areas in our defence, we were just a little bit lax at times.

“It was great that just when they looked like they were going to push on that we came back again and got a score and then finished them off with a try at the end.

“The scrums the previous week (against Glasgow) were a bit of mixed bag, some good, some bad and we’re constantly working to improve. We’re changing a few things around so it was great to have dominance there.

“That’s what we’re looking to have every week, dominance in the scrum. Dan (McFarland) is doing great work with us there, a lot of technical stuff but it seems to be paying off on the pitch.

“The noise from the crowd is fantastic. It’s an amazing thing that’s started here this season, regardless when you’re coming off, either as a replacement or at full-time and whether we’ve won or lost it’s amazing.

“The noise going through the tunnel is unbelievable. It’s a great feeling and we’re just so grateful to our supporters.

“I think it makes a massive difference to every part of the game when there’s noise like that and it’s brilliant to be getting great support and long may it last.”

Nigel Davies (Scarlets) – “We will have to start a lot better than we did last week, we made hard work of that first 20 minutes against Benetton Treviso, but the players showed composure and pushed on to get the four tries we needed.

“We know that we’ll have to be intense and right on top of game to get a result on Friday. This is another massive game for us – we need a good win and Connacht are a tough team to face, so we’ll take nothing for granted.

“There’s a fierce level of competition amongst all the teams in this league and it’s all pretty level – there’s no difference between playing a Connacht or an Ulster or a Munster anymore.

“We need to come out with the right mindset. Connacht are a well-coached side, they are very competitive and physical and will try to outmuscle us and they play some good rugby as we’ve seen in the Heineken Cup.”

Top Scorers – 2011/12 RaboDirect PRO12: Connacht – Points: Niall O’Connor 86; Tries: Tiernan O’Halloran 4; Scarlets – Points: Dan Newton 66; Tries: Rhys Thomas 4


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
Saturday, September 10, 2011 – Connacht 13 Scarlets 11, the Sportsground


– Scarlets ended a three-match losing streak with their 34-20 home win over Benetton Treviso eight days ago

– The Welshmen have won their last six games at Parc y Scarlets in the RaboDirect PRO12, which marks their best run since 2006

– Connacht’s only reversal in their last four games in all competitions was a 22-15 loss at the Cardiff Blues in the RaboDirect PRO12 on February 10

– Connacht have won just once on the road in the league since September 2010, earning a 11-9 triumph in Treviso on September 3

– Connacht have won their last two games against the Scarlets and are chasing a first ever season’s double over the West Walians. Connacht have not won in Llanelli since October 2004