Preview: Connacht v Scarlets

Date published: January 29 2016

Connacht will boast the services of Robbie Henshaw, who has been released by Ireland, and Scarlets will appreciate the services of Liam Williams, who has been deemed surplus to Wales' requirements, for Saturday's key PRO12 clash at the Sportsground.

"While we were pleased with last week’s performance, we know that Scarlets present a completely different challenge. They are top of the league and will travel with confidence especially with their PRO12 form away from home," said Connacht head coach Pat Lam.

"We know from our meeting with them last month that it will probably be a closely-fought contest once again and we will have to bring that clinical edge that was on show last week if we are to come on top.

"We are back at home on a Saturday afternoon for the second week in a row and we’re really looking forward to playing in front of a packed out Sportsground before we take a short break. A win would keep us in the top four, where we have been all season and would sign off this block of 16 consecutive games very nicely for us and our supporters."

Gareth Owen is also back for Scarlets after recovering from a shoulder injury. The young Ryan Elias, at just 21 years old, will get his first start at hooker – while Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac has opted for an unchanged backrow.

"Connacht play an expansive game of rugby, more so than other sides. We know it's going to be a big day at the office, defensively as well as looking after the ball when we do have it," said Pivac.

"We clearly want to remain as high up the table as we can. There are eight or nine sides going for six slots, that doesn't work. It's all in front of us over the next four or five games to stay in the top four if we can, that's certainly the aim. It's going to be a close run race."

Form: Connacht's five-game losing run in all competitions ended with their 47-5 victory over Russian outfit Enisei on Saturday. The Irishmen's only defeat in their last nine matches at the Sportsground in all tournaments was 3-10 to Ulster in the PRO12 on December 26. Scarlets remain at the top of the PRO12 table despite winning only three of their last six matches and gaining 15 points out of a possible 30. The Welshmen are the best away side in the PRO12 (along with Leinster) having obtained 14 league points from their five trips so far. Connacht's only victory in their last eight encounters with Scarlets was 14-8 in this equivalent fixture last season, played in November 2014.

The teams: 

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Danie Poolman, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Eoghan Masterson, 7 Jake Heenan, 6 John Muldoon (c), 5 Aly Muldowney, 4 George Naoupu, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 James Connolly, 21 Ian Porter, 22 Craig Ronaldson, 23 Rory Parata

Scarlets: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Tom Williams, 13 Gareth Owen, 12 Hadleigh Parkes (c), 11 DTH van der Merwe, 10 Aled Thomas, 9 Rhodri Williams, 8 Morgan Allen, 7 Will Boyde, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Lewis Rawlins, 4 Tom Price, 3 Rhodri Jones, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Phil John
Replacements: 16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Dylan Evans, 18 Peter Edwards, 19 Jack Jones, 20 Tom Phillips, 21 Connor Lloyd, 22 Steven Shingler, 23 Michael Collins

Date: Saturday, January 30
Venue: Sportsground
Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales) 
Assistant Referees: Gary Conway (Ireland), Eddie Hogan-O'Connell (Ireland) 
TMO: Dermot Moloney (Ireland)