Preview: Connacht v Dragons

Date published: September 5 2014

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Connacht head coach Pat Lam has named his side for the opening round of the PRO12 against the Dragons in Galway, with Kieran Marmion starting.

Academy centre Rory Parata will make his PRO12 debut after starting in two pre-season games against Castres and Munster. Bundee Aki will partner the 21-year-old in midfield.

Up front new flanker Nepia Fox-Matamua earns his first cap in a Connacht jersey starting in a back row with captain John Muldoon and number eight Eoghan Masterson.

Former Leinster lock Ben Marshall is likely to be sprung from the bench for his first official Connacht appearance.

"After a rigorous but successful pre-season, the players really made selection difficult for us ahead of tomorrow's game and that was pleasing," said Lam.

"I'm delighted for young Rory Parata who has had a good off-season and impressed in the warm-up games. It just highlights that if you put the work in your chance will come.

"It's always a tight and physical battle with the Dragons and we're expecting nothing different tomorrow night with both sides looking to get off to a flying start."

Meanwhile, Dragons boss Lyn Jones has given five players their debut start, including South African scrum-half Sarel Pretorius, as the season kick-starts away from home in Galway.

Full-back Carl Meyer is one of the players who signed a full-time contract with the Dragons during the summer and he is looking forward to beginning his campaign as a fully-fledged member of the squad. 

"I am really looking forward to being a full member of the squad now and I hope to contribute as much as I can," he said.

"The main objective of coming over to Wales was to get a full-time contract and it's worked out pretty well. I am really grateful for the opportunity and am looking to do the best I can."

The 24-year-old is joined in the back three by Tom Prydie and newcomer Nick Scott. The centre pairing sees the return of Ross Wardle from injury and ex-Scarlet Adam Warren. Fly-half and Dragons regular Jason Tovey pulls on the number 10 jersey and he is joined in the half-backs by Pretorius. 

The front row sees the inclusion of Boris Stankovich and newly signed prop Shaun Knight pack down along side hooker and the 2015/16 Dragons skipper Thomas Rhys Thomas. The second row sees Rynard Landman and Cory Hill named, with flankers Nick Crosswell and Nic Cudd joining recently signed number eight Ed Jackson in the back row.

The replacements bench includes Hugh Gustafson, Phil Price, Brok Harris, James Thomas, James Benjamin, new recruit Charlie Davies, Dorian Jones and Tyler Morgan who has recently returned to the Dragons after training with Wales during their Rugby World Cup preparations.

Form: Connacht have begun with victory in round 1 in four of the last five years, but only won one of their last six Guinness PRO12 encounters last season: 40-10 at Zebre on 9th May. Dragons concluded their 2014/15 Guinness PRO12 campaign with four victories in the last six rounds, but on the road have won just once in any tournament since March: 32-17 in Treviso in round 18 of the Guinness PRO12. Connacht have won their last five matches against the Dragons since the Welshmen were victorious 14-3 at Rodney Parade in November 2012 whilst the Dragons' only previous victory at the Sportsground came on 1st May 2004.

The teams:

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O'Halloran, 14 Danie Poolman, 13 Rory Parata, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Eoghan Masterson, 7 Nepia Fox-Matamua, 6 John Muldoon (c), 5 Andrew Browne, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 JP Cooney, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Ben Marshall, 20 Eoin McKeon, 21 John Cooney, 22 Craig Ronaldson, 23 Fionn Carr.

Dragons:  15 Carl Meyer, 14 Tom Prydie, 13 Ross Wardle, 12 Adam Warren, 11 Nick Scott, 10 Jason Tovey, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Ed Jackson, 7 Nic Cudd, 6 Nick Crosswell, 5 Rynard Landman, 4 Cory Hill, 3 Shaun Knight, 2 T. Rhys Thomas (c), 1 Boris Stankovich.
Replacements: 16 Hugh Gustafson, 17 Phil Price, 18 Brok Harris, 19 James Thomas, 20 James Benjamin, 21 Charlie Davies, 22 Dorian Jones, 23 Tyler Morgan.

Date: Friday, September 4
Venue: The Sportsground
Kick-off: 19:30 BST (18:30 GMT)
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant referees: Leo Colgan (Ireland), Mark Connolly (Ireland)
Assessor: Michael Carroll (Ireland)

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