Preview: Connacht v Scarlets

Date published: February 11 2011

Connacht coach Eric Elwood has made three changes to his starting XV to face the Scarlets at the Sportsground on Saturday.

Connacht coach Eric Elwood has made three changes to his starting XV to face the Scarlets at the Sportsground on Saturday.

The side remains largely similar to the team that beat Cavalieri Prato in two weeks ago.

With Sean Cronin on Irish duty Adrian Flavin starts at hooker, the experienced former Irish U19 & U21 player has just signed a two-year deal to stay with Connacht. The only other change in the starting pack sees Johnny O'Connor return from injury to captain the side and replace Shane Conneely at openside flanker.

In the backline, Troy Nathan replace Keith Matthews at inside centre.

Connacht have also been boosted this week with the re-signing of Flavin, lock Michael Swift and flanker Ray Ofisa who have all signed contract extensions with the province.

Meanwhile, The Scarlets travel to Galway with a strengthened team from the side that lost out at last weekend's fixture against the Dragons.

Returning back from injury are star centre Regan King, Lou Reed in the second row, with back row forwards Johnathan Edwards and number eight Ben Morgan also adding to a powerful and dynamic Scarlets pack.

Back row forward Rob McCusker is released back to his region from international duty with Wales and the Scarlets' young Pembrokeshire Prop Simon Gardiner (20) is back from injury to the bench. Gardiner returns after an impressive show in the Heineken Cup and Magners League, stepping up to cover after an unprecedented trio of injuries hit the Scarlets front row with three tighthead Props (Deacon Manu, Rhys Thomas, Peter Edwards) all sustaining broken limbs.

A core group of key players that have been rested, including experienced Prop Iestyn Thomas (captain) and in-form centre Gareth Maule, are back in the starting line-up, for first of three crucial fixtures for the Scarlets as they look to keep a hold on a top four position in the Magners League.

The Scarlets currently have nine senior squad players on international duty, a group of Scarlets academy and development players with Wales U20 and U18s, two with Wales Sevens (Richie Pugh and Lees Rees) and 12 unavailable through injury.
The Scarlets know they have to push for a win as only 5 points, or one win, separate the teams lying in second to fifth place in the table.

“It's good to see some key players coming back from injury for us and we are happy with the quality of the side we've been able to put together for this weekend given the number of injuries we're carrying and those on international duty,” said Scarlets Head Coach Nigel Davies.

“The next three games – Connacht away this weekend and then our two home games (Ulster and Edinburgh) are absolutely critical for our ambitions this year.

“We know we need to build momentum in Connacht and then keep that going into the home games. It's not going to be an easy place to go to – it's dirty, its muddy and we have to bring the right tough mental attitude. Our forwards are going to have to play a big part in this performance against them, but they are more than capable of doing that.”

Form: Connacht have won their last two matches against Bayonne and Prato in the Amlin Challenge Cup. Connacht have not won in the Magners League since round three when they beat Glasgow Warriors 19-17 at Firhill on 17 September. Scarlets only defeat in their last five Magners League games was 17-60 at Ospreys on 27 December. The Welshmen have lost on their last eight visits to Ireland since beating Connacht in Galway 17-14 on 9 January 2009. Connacht have won just one of their last five encounters with Scarlets: 16-10 at the Sportsground on 30 October 2009.

The teams:

Connacht: 15 Gavin Duffy, 14 Brian Tuohy, 13 Niva Ta'auso, 12 Troy Nathan, 11 Fionn Carr, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Frank Murphy, 8 Mike McComish, 7 Johnny O'Connor (C), 6 Andrew Browne 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Michael Swift, 3 Jamie Hagan, 2 Adrian Flavin, 1 Brett Wilkinson.
Replacements: 16 Dermot Murphy, 17 Dylan Rogers, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Bernie Upton, 20 Ray Ofisa, 21 Cillian Willis, 22 Mia Nikora, 23 Shane Monahan.

Scarlets: 15 Daniel Evans, 14 Darren Daniel, 13 Regan King, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Gareth Maule, 10 Dan Newton, 9 Martin Roberts ,8 Ben Morgan, 7 Johnathan Edwards, 6 Rob McCusker, 5 Lou Reed, 4 Vernon Cooper, 3 Rhys Thomas, 2 Emyr Phillips, 1 Iestyn Thomas (c).
Replacements: 16 Rhys Lawrence, 17 Simon Gardiner, 18 Owen Evans, 19 Jonny Fa'amatuainu, 20 Nick Cudd, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Nick Reynolds.

Date: Saturday, February 12
Venue: Sportsground
Kick-off: 19.35 GMT
Referee: Andrew McMenemy