Preview: Connacht v Dragons

Date published: December 20 2013

Connacht boss Pat Lam has made two changes to his starting XV for Saturday's clash with the Dragons in Galway.

Connacht boss Pat Lam has made two changes to his starting XV for Saturday's PRO12 clash with the Dragons at the Sportsground in Galway.

Gavin Duffy starts on the right wing for his 170th Connacht appearance. The remainder of the back-line remains unchanged for the return to PRO12 action.

Nathan White, who missed last week's game due to illness, represents the only change to the pack. Craig Clarke will captain the side, partnered by Mick Kearney in the second row.

On the bench, 22-year-old Dave Heffernan has been called in as replacement hooker for the unavailable Sean Henry. Academy fly-half and Eagles captain Jack Carty has also been called up.

Commenting on the team selection and the upcoming game, Lam said: “We had a shorter week in terms of training sessions this week as we had to give the players a day off on Monday to shake off the flu virus.

“We also had to plan without Craig (Ronaldson), Sean (Henry) and Frank (Murphy) who we lost to injury last week.

“With the forecasted weather conditions, back three coverage for kicks is crucial so it's great to bring back the experience and voice of Gavin Duffy.

“Dragons are an improved side this year. They're seventh in the table and it will be another tough challenge this week.

“We know that we need to put them under pressure right from the kick off. If we bring the heart, that was so evident in our Toulouse games, to our roles in the game plan it will give us a great opportunity to achieve the outcome we all want.”

Meanwhile, Dragons director of rugby Lyn Jones has made five changes to his run-on side.

Jones has made just one change his pack of forwards with newly signed Cory Hill making up the second row alongside skipper Andrew Coombs.

They are joined in the front five by Owen Evans, Sam Parry and international prop Francisco Chaparro. The back row then takes on the familiar sight of Lewis Evans as blindside flanker, Nic Cudd as open side flanker and British and Irish lion Toby Faletau at number eight.

Daniel Evans retains his place as full-back and he is joined in the back three by wingers Will Harries and Hallam Amos. Pat Leach and Ross Wardle, who moves in from the wing, both make up the centre pairing for the men of Gwent. The half backs are made up of Jason Tovey and Richie Rees steps in as scrum half.

Four changes have been made on the replacements bench with Dan Way, Ieuan Jones, Wayne Evans and Ashley Smith. T.Rhys Thomas, Hugh Gustafson, Matthew Screech and Steffan Jones all keep their places on the bench.
Form: Connacht's only two victories in their last dozen matches in all tournaments have both been away from home in the Heineken Cup, at Zebre and at Toulouse. Connacht's only victory in the PRO12 since April was 25-16 at home to Zebre in round 1 this season. Connacht have lost all three games they have played against Welsh opponents this season. Dragons only victory in their last four PRO12 fixtures was 23-8 away at Glasgow in round 8, this represents their only victory on the road since they beat Zebre in Parma in February. The Welshmen have lost their last three matches against Irish opponents and have won just once away from home at an Irish Province since 2004: 16-14 over Ulster at Ravenhill in September 2008. Each side won its respective home game when the two teams met last season, whilst Dragons only previous victory in ten previous visits to the Sportsground came on May 1 2004.

The teams:

Connacht: 15 Robbie Henshaw, 14 Gavin Duffy, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Dave McSharry, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Eoin McKeon, 7 Jake Heenan, 6 John Muldoon, 5 Craig Clarke (c), 4 Mick Kearney, 3 Nathan White, 2 Jason Harris-Wright, 1 Brett Wilkinson.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Andrew Browne, 20 George Naoupu, 21 Paul O'Donohoe, 22 Jack Carty, 23 Fionn Carr.

Dragons: 15 Daniel Evans, 14 Will Harries, 13 Pat Leach, 12 Ross Wardle, 11 Hallam Amos,10 Jason Tovey, 9 Richie Rees, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Nic Cudd, 6 Lewis Evans, 5 Cory Hill, 4 Andrew Coombs (c), 3 Francisco Chaparro, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Owen Evans.
Replacements: 16 T Rhys Thomas, 17 Hugh Gustafson, 18 Dan Way, 19 Matthew Screech, 20 Ieuan Jones, 21 Wayne Evans, 22 Steffan Jones, 23 Ashley Smith.

Date: Saturday 21st December
Venue: Galway Sportsground
Kick-off: 1700 (local and GMT)
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ire)
Assistant referees: Gary Conway, Paul Hancock (both Ire)