Preview: Connacht v Scarlets

Date published: September 14 2012

The Scarlets have made eight changes to their starting XV for Saturday's PRO12 clash with Connacht at the Sportsground in Galway.

The Scarlets have made eight changes to their starting XV for Saturday's PRO12 clash with Connacht at the Sportsground in Galway.

Scarlets head coach Simon Easterby brings in a few new faces to his matchday squad and mixes up experience and youth with a number of player rotations for the contest.

Young Scarlets talent Jordan Williams gets his senior Scarlets debut at full-back where he replaces his namesake Liam Williams while new signing Australian Welsh-qualified second row Jake Ball is on the bench and gets his first opportunity to appear in his regional colours.

Wales international centre Jon Davies takes the captain's armband for the first time in his Scarlets rugby career.

Other changes to the back-line from last weekend's run-on side against Glasgow sees Gareth Davies replacing Tavis Knoyle at scrum-half, while Nick Reynolds comes in for Andy Fenby on the wing.

Amongst the forwards, Samson Lee starts at tight-head in his first competitive start and Phil John at loose-head prop, Sione Timani joins Richard Kelly in the second row. Lee takes over from Fiji international Deacon Manu while John and Timani come in for Rhodri Jones and George Earle respectively.

In the back row, Kieran Murphy starts at number eight with Scarlets skipper Rob McCusker on the bench and Josh Turnbull replaces Aaron Shingler on the flank.

Scarlets attack coach Mark Jones expects a tough assignment against Connacht.

“We haven't had a great record at the Sportsground and have tripped up on our last two visits with narrow losses, so we don't put ourselves in a position where we are fighting a tight margin at the end of the game,” he said.

“We will need to be ruthless and get ahead and then protect that lead.

“There is certainly no complacency in this side and absolutely no expectation on winning.

“What we expect is for the boys to perform to the level they have this season, improve on the margins and then we are in with a chance.

“Our only expectation is on the performance – that should then take care of the result.”

Jones said that the positive start had given the camp at Parc y Scarlets a confidence boost particularly winning over teams that were in the top of the mix last season.

“We've got some tough competition to start us off, if you think that in our first four games we've played three of last year's semi-finalists but that's given us a boost,” he explained.

“We knew we needed to get off to a strong start in our first six games.

“Last weekend in Glasgow gave us a better indication of where we were, we did a good defensive job, put the ball in the right areas and nailed our opportunities.

“And it's good to see those chances being taken. Part of our story last season was we just couldn't finish off at key times, but our back three have started very well and it's been good to see seven of our 10 tries this season come from the backs.

“Our centre partnership is working well and it's good that Jonathan (Davies) and Scott (Williams) have had time training together now here at Parc y Scarlets – rather than just with Wales.

“The key thing is that the team is complimenting those strike players; we have good width in our attack and the players are excited to get ball in their hands and are working hard to get onto the ball.

“We have to maintain this type of intent in the group, but so far so good.

“What we also have to focus on is our ability to develop a tighter game as well so we have potent attacking options in other areas of our game, particularly when the weather isn't so good.”

Meanwhile, Connacht head coach Eric Elwood has made six changes to his run-on side for the encounter.

Injury has forced an entire new back row and sees Andrew Browne named as blindside flanker.

This is Browne's first game back since he was injured during the 2011 pre-season. Willie Faloon and Eoin McKeon complete the all new back row and replace Johnny O'Connor and George Naopu respectively.

Brett Wilkinson will start in the loosehead prop position while new signing Nathan White gets his first start tomorrow as tighthead prop.

Elsewhere in the backs, Dave McSharry has been promoted to a starting berth, replacing Mata Fifita in the centre.

Elwood was very pleased with his team's performance in their 30-17 win over Zebre in Parma last week but knows there is a lot of work to do this weekend.

“We played well in Zebre scoring three tries away from home and securing our first win of the season,” he said.

“The lads showed huge character in Italy, especially when we were forced into making so many changes in the second half.

“Tomorrow poses another challenge as Scarlets are top of the league and are playing very well.

“They've had a great start to the season, scoring 10 tries in the process.

“We will really have to step it up against this Scarlets side but the lads are well up for the challenge.”

Form: Connacht gained a first win of the new RaboDirect PRO12 season on Friday when they visited Zebre and triumphed 30-17. Connacht's only win in their last seven matches against Welsh regions was 27-19 against the Dragons at Rodney Parade on 30 March 2012. Scarlets top the PRO12 table for the first time since round three in season 2008/09 following their successive wins over Leinster and Glasgow. The Welshmen have won back to back away games but have not won three in a row on the road in the tournament since 2006/07. The last six clashes between the two sides have all been won by the home side on the day, whilst Scarlets most recent victory at the Sportsground came on 9 January 2009.

The teams:

Connacht: 15 Gavin Duffy (c), 14 Tiernan O'Halloran, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Dave McSharry, 11 Fetu'u Vainikolo, 10 Miah Nikora, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Eoin McKeon, 7 Willie Faloon, 6 Andrew Browne, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Michael Swift, 3 Nathan White, 2 Ethienne Reynecke, 1 Brett Wilkinson.
Replacements: 16 Adrian Flavin, 17 Dennis Buckley, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 David Gannon, 20 Johnny O'Connor, 21 Dave Moore, 22 Matthew Jarvis, 23 Robbie Henshaw.

Scarlets: 15 Jordan Williams, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies (c), 12 Scott Williams, 11 Nick Reynolds 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Kieran Murphy. 7 Johnathan Edwards, 6 Josh Turnbull, 5 Richard Kelly, 4 Sione Timani, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Phil John.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Peter Edwards, 18 Deacon Manu, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Rob McCusker, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Aled Thomas, 23 Gareth Maule.

Date: Saturday, September 15
Kick-off: 15:00 BST
Venue: The Sportsground, Galway
Referee: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Johnny Lacey (Ireland), John Carvill (Ireland)
Television match official: Dermot Moloney (Ireland)
Assessor: Michael Carroll (Ireland)