Scarlets will be hoping to continue their recent unbeaten streak in the Guinness PRO14 as they head into Saturday’s clash with Connacht Rugby.
Connacht will be aiming to avoid another defeat and bounce back from their defeat to Edinburgh at the Sportsground at 5.15pm.
What’s at stake?
Scarlets travel to Ireland in the search of their third successive win of the season and will want to build on their 38-29 victory over Benetton last time out. Last year’s runners-up currently sit third on ten points in Conference A, as they aim to go one step further and win the competition this year.
Connacht, meanwhile, will want to return to winning ways after losing 17-10 away to Edinburgh Rugby last weekend. Another defeat, would leave Connacht further adrift of the top in Conference B as they currently occupy fifth.
Team news (Connacht)
Back row Robin Copeland is set to make his debut at No. 8 for Connacht in this weekend’s match.
Copeland’s inclusion marks one of six changes that head coach Andy friend makes following last weekend’s defeat at Murrayfield.
Irish international Bundee Aki comes into the starting XV, whilst Tom Farrell returns after recovering from illness. Cian Kelleher is named on the wing, and Denis Buckley starts at loosehead. While Gavin Thornbury slots into the second row alongside Quinn Roux.
Team news (Scarlets)
Wayne Pivac has made a few changes from the team that faced Benetton at Parc y Scarlets last weekend.
Rhys Patchell returns from the side lines after suffering a concussion against Leinster in round two and slots into the backline.
Flanker Lewis Rawlins replaces the injured James Davies who sustained a knee injury last time out, while the South African Uzair Cassiem is in line to make his competitive debut after being named amongst the replacements.
Team to take on @connachturgby at the Sportsground, Saturday 22nd September, KO 17:15.
— Scarlets Rugby (@scarlets_rugby) September 21, 2018
Connacht head coach Andy Friend welcomes the challenge that Scarlets will pose to his side. He said: “Scarlets are a quality side and we expect a huge challenge from them. They are one of the top teams in this competition, so it is a massive challenge for us.
“We have a really healthy competition in our squad at the moment and that is exactly what we need as the big games keep coming.”
Commenting on Copeland’s impending debut, Friend added: “We have been really impressed with Robin in the pre-season both on and off the field. His energy and maturity have been a big addition to the wider group.
“He played 40 minutes for the Eagles side last weekend and he came through that ok after a niggly injury, so he is good to go for Scarlets.”
Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac said: “We set a target, we wanted to be around the ten point mark in the first three games and we’ve picked up ten. It could have easily been thirteen. We’re reasonably comfortable.
“We’ve said from day one that we wouldn’t be hitting our straps early in the season because of the time we gave the boys off and staggered return. The fluency in our game hasn’t quite been there but it’s about winning points and gathering momentum. Winning builds momentum.”
Looking ahead to Saturday’s clash against Connacht, he went on to say: “We have a big game this weekend away from home. It would really set our season up if we could get a win away in Connacht, which isn’t an easy place to go so we’re really looking forward to this weekend.
“Last week was pleasing to get the five points but obviously a lot of work to do. We didn’t have the best of performances. It was disappointing from our point of view that we didn’t back up that Leinster performance the way we wanted to but we were still good enough to score 38 points.”
📣 TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT 📣
Here is your Connacht team to face @scarlets_rugby at The Sportsground tomorrow!
— Connacht Rugby (@connachtrugby) September 21, 2018
Key battle: Robin Copeland vs Blade Thomson
Having joined from Munster at the start of this season, 30-year-old Copeland will be hoping to impress on his debut for Connacht.
This weekend’s game will prove a tough test for Copeland especially given the strength Scarlets’ possess.
New Zealander Blade Thomson, who joined the Guinness PRO14 from Super Rugby this season, will be looking to showcase some more of his attacking prowess for Scarlets.
Both men will want to get themselves on the ball and influence the game, and they will have a big say on who wins this contest.
Key fact: Scarlets come up against their third Irish opposition of the season, having narrowly lost to Ulster Rugby on the opening day before bouncing back to beat Leinster in Round 2.
Did you know? Connacht have only won two of their last six matches against Welsh sides.
Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, Cian Kelleher, Tom Farrell, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion, Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Gavin Thornbury, Quinn Roux, Sean O’Brien, Jarrad Butler, Robin Copeland.
Replacements: Tom McCartney, Peter McCabe, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Ultan Dillane, Colby Fainga’a, Caolin Blade, Craig Ronaldson, Niyi Adeolokun.
Scarlets: Leigh Halfpenny, Tom Prydie, Kieron Fonotia, Hadleigh Parkes, Johnny McNicholl, Rhys Patchell, Gareth davies, Phil Price, Ken Owens, Samson Lee, Jake Bull, Steve Cummins, Ed Kennedy, Lewis Rawlins, Blade Thomson.
Replacements: Ryan Elias, Wyn Jones, Werner Kruger, David Bulbring, Uzair Cassiem, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Angus O’Brien, Paul Asquith.
TV: TG4, Premier Sports 1, eir sport 2
Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR)
Assistant referees: Gianluca Gnecchi (FIR), Kieran Barry (IRFU)
Citing commissioner: TBC
TMO: Leo Colgan (IRFU)
A fabulous display from Connacht’s Jack Carty and Bundee Aki secured Connacht Rugby’s second win of the Guinness PRO14 campaign with a 33-20 win over Scarlets.
Aki set up Tom Farrell’s opener inside just five minutes, before Carty helped to deliver a fine kicking display with a perfect seven successful kicks to down Wayne Pivac’s men.
A late fightback from Scarlets set up a stunning finish, but Connacht’s Niyi Adeolokun secured a deserved win late on.
Connacht raced to an early lead inside just five minutes when Tom Farrell bundled over the line for his sixth career try following a bustling run and some neat handiwork from teammate Aki.
Leigh Halfpenny, who couldn’t fell Aki for the Connacht opener, reduced the arrears from the tee only minutes later, before Carty hit his fifth point of the afternoon moments later.
Connacht, who conceded 15 penalties in last week’s loss to Edinburgh, continued their sloppy streak when Aki failed to move from the ruck to give Halfpenny a second successful penalty.
But Scarlets were exposed once more midway through the first-half when Carty’s fast hands duped two Welshmen to allow Cian Kelleher to go under the posts for Andy Friend’s side’s second try of the match.
In an end-to-end first-half, the home team’s advantage was reduced once more when Connacht’s second try scorer was duped by a cunning move from New Zealander Johnny McNicholl to secure Wayne Pivac’s men a first score.
A deliberate knock on from Scarlets Ed Kennedy brought up a 20-13 Connacht advantage at the break courtesy of another successful kick from ice cool Carty.
With the words of both respective head coaches ringing in the players ears, the second-half began in a rather more precarious manner as both sides battled for the advantage.
Connacht thought they had extended their lead when Farrell intercepted Rhys Patchell’s risky pass inside the Scarlets try line, but referee Marius Mitrea pulled the game back for an earlier infringement.
As Scarlets’ fouls mounted, Connacht’s scoreboard continued to tick over in their favour when Carty notched up his third successful penalty to put the Irishmen 10 points ahead with under 20 minutes to go.
And when Connacht were given another opportunity to extend their lead from a collapsed Scarlets scrum, Carty duly obliged from a tight angle on the right touchline to go 26-13 ahead.
But that didn’t stop Scarlets from setting up a mouth-watering grandstand finish when Tom Prydie hit back to score Scarlets’ second try of the match following Jake Ball’s impressive break away.
Any Scarlets hope quickly faded when Caolin Blade stole the ball from the ruck to set-up Adeolokun to punch through Scarlets’ defence and ensure the win with Carty’s seventh successful kick.