Planet Rugby

Preview: Connacht v Scarlets

22nd November 2013 09:30

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Luke Burgess and Michael Swift

250th game: Michael Swift

Connacht have handed Eoghan Masterson his first cap for the RaboDirect PRO12 clash with the Scarlets at the Sportsground in Galway on Saturday.

He starts at number eight, a month after signing for the Connacht Academy.

This weekend's game is Michael Swift's 250th for Connacht. His second-row partner Craig Clarke captains the side on Saturday.

In the backline, Galway-man Eoin Griffin makes a welcome return to the centre, while Darragh Leader moves to the wing. Craig Ronaldson has been selected at fly-half.

"Eoghan Masterson arrived here during the summer on trial with the Academy and since then, the coaching staff have been so impressed with his professionalism both on and off the field," said head coach Pat Lam.

"He has worked hard on his game and has truly earned his opportunity and first senior Rabo game. I believe game time at this level is an essential part of a young player's development once they do the hard work and it's great to see players like Eoghan, Darragh (Leader), Jake (Heenan), Craig (Ronaldson) and Matt (Healy) all following in the footsteps of Robbie (Henshaw) and Kieran (Marmion).

"The recent break really allowed the team to recoup, and we needed that especially as we know Scarlets present a tough challenge. They had a good win against Ulster the last time out and they've been consistently playing at the top end of the table. Like all our games against Welsh sides, it's sure to be a physical encounter."

"We need to keep improving. In the last four or five games we have pushed teams really close. We have shown a lot of heart and commitment, and also created enough opportunities to win all of those games, but we were not clinical enough.

"However there is a real doggedness and determination to get off the table and we want to start climbing, commencing tomorrow against Scarlets."

Meanwhile the Scarlets, with ten players called up currently on international duty, will be looking for leadership from their core group against Connacht.

In-form prop Phil John captains the side in the absence of injured skipper Rob McCusker (calf strain), with the experience in the back-row that proved successful against Ulster returning in the form of Aaron Shingler, Josh Turnbull and Sione Timani.

There's a return to the centre partnership of Gareth Maule and Adam Warren and a second start in a Scarlets shirt for new New Zealand utility back Frazier Climo. The talented back-three player joined Scarlets two weeks ago from ITM Cup side Taranaki.

"Losing additional players to international duty does impact our league challenge, but we have to deal with that and seeing the number of young players we have called up with Wales as well as our more senior players is a positive for the future," said Scarlets head coach Simon Easterby.

"It's also testament to the work Danny Wilson our Forwards Coach has been doing with the pack and the amount of exposure to top level rugby some of our young forwards have had so far.

"Connacht have produced some good rugby this season despite their position in the table and gave Leinster a real scare at the RDS; they also ran Sarries close in the Heineken so we know we cannot afford to be in the slightest bit off our guard.

"They are a good outfit and certainly in this period have an advantage as they don't lose so many players from their side to international duty. That allows them to keep their continuity and we know that there can always be tricky conditions in Galway and I am sure Dan Parks will be mastering the conditions on Saturday evening."

Form: Connacht's solo victory in the RaboDirect PRO12 this season came in the opening game at home to Zebre, 25-16. Welsh opponents have won on five of their last seven visits to Galway. Scarlets have lost only one of their last four PRO12 fixtures: 12-17 at home to Glasgow in round five. The Welshmen have been defeated on their last four visits to Ireland in all tournaments since beating Munster 13-6 in Cork in the PRO12 twelve months ago. Scarlets have won their last three encounters with Connacht since the Irishmen's 13-11 victory at the Sportsground in September 2011.

The teams:

Connacht: 15 Gavin Duffy, 14 Darragh Leader, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Dave McSharry, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Craig Ronaldson, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Eoghan Masterson, 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Aly Muldowney, 5 Craig Clarke (capt), 4 Michael Swift, 3 Nathan White, 2 Sean Henry, 1 Brett Wilkinson.
Replacements: 16 Jason Harris-Wright, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Mick Kearney, 20 George Naoupu, 21 Frank Murphy, 22 Dan Parks, 23 Fionn Carr.

Scarlets: 15 Gareth Owen, 14 Frazier Climo, 13 Gareth Maule, 12 Adam Warren, 11 Nic Reynolds, 10 Aled Thomas, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Sione Timani, 7 Josh Turnbull, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 George Earle, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Kirby Myhill, 1 Phil John (capt).
Replacements: 16 Darran Harris, 17 Shaun Hopkins, 18 Ian Jones, 19 Jo Synman, 20 Dan Thomas, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Josh Lewis, 23 Kristian Phillips.

Date: Saturday, November 23
Kick-off: 17:00 GMT
Venue: The Sportsground
Referee: Matteo Liperini (Italy)
Assistant referees: Paul Haycock (Ireland), Olly Hodges (Ireland)

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