Defending champions Connacht are still searching for their first league point of the new Guinness PRO12 season and head coach Pat Lam knows that Edinburgh pose a real threat on Friday.
Connacht achieved the season’s double over Edinburgh for the first time last year, although the Scotsmen have won on two of their last four visits to Galway.
Lam has made two changes to the side that lost last to Scarlets last time out – Peter Robb comes into the centres and Conor Carey makes his debut in the front row.
And Lam knows his side will have be prepared to front up to an Edinburgh side that beat those same Scarlets in round two.
“We’re back at the Sportsground tomorrow and really looking forward to the challenge,” said Lam.
“We are under no illusions as to the threat that Edinburgh pose, and the physicality they will bring to the contest. We are determined to continue improving in our game as we look to earn the points that are available.”
Edinburgh’s only away victory in any tournament since early January was by a single point on a trip to Newport Gwent Dragons in March.
But in a week that saw the departure of head coach Alan Solomons, a quartet of Scotland internationalists will re-enter the fold on Friday.
Forwards Ross Ford, WP Nel, Grant Gilchrist and John Hardie are among seven personnel changes from last week’s loss at Thomond Park, with try-scorer Hardie promoted from the bench.
In the backs, scrum-half Sean Kennedy will make his first start of the season and is partnered by stand-off Jason Tovey, who returns to play after missing out on the opening games of the season through a wrist injury.
The final change to the starting side is in the midfield, where Chris Dean – who scored his second try for the club against Munster – shuffles to outside-centre to accommodate the incoming Solomoni Rasolea, prompting a move to wing for Mike Allen.
Acting head coach Duncan Hodge said: “It’s been a challenging week for all involved but we’ve got a massive game we need to win on Friday night. In the short-term our focus has got to be on tomorrow’s match.
“We’ve got some fresh faces coming in from last week who will lift the team and give us a fresh energy for the game.”
“Connacht have talismanic players among them and they’re always a tough team to play, especially at home.
“They’ll be physical, but we know what to expect. We have prepared well this week and can’t wait to embrace the challenge, start to change our performances and get results for the club.”
Connacht: O’Halloran; Adeolokun, Aki, Robb, Healy; Carty, Marmion; Buckley, McCartney, Carey; Roux, Dillane; McKeon, Heenan, Muldoon
Replacements: Heffernan, Loughney, Bealham, Stevenson, Connolly, Blade, O’Leary, Kelleher
Edinburgh: Bryce; Hoyland, Dean, Rasolea, Allen; Tovey, Kennedy; Sutherland, Ford, Nel; Toolis, Gilchrist; Bradbury, Hardie, Du Preez
Replacements: McInally, Cosgrove, Dell, Carmichael, Watson, Hidalgo-Clyne, Tofilau, Kinghorn
Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 27, Connacht won 11, Edinburgh won 14 and 2 games drawn
At The Sportsground, 7.35pm. Live on TG4
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU, 137th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Simon Rees (WRU), John Carvill (IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: John Cole (IRFU)
TMO: Jon Mason (WRU)
Connacht finally looked like the side who claimed the Guinness PRO12 title last term as they notched up their first win of the season, beating Edinburgh Rugby 28-15 in Galway.
The hosts went in at the break 18-10 to the good thanks to scores from Niyi Adeolokun and Quinn Roux, which sandwiched Edinburgh skipper Grant Gilchrist’s effort.
And Connacht again outscored the visitors by two tries to one after half-time, with Mike Allen’s try no more than a consolation as replacement Cian Kelleher and Peter Robb secured a bonus-point win.
Connacht got off to the worst possible start as Kelleher had to come on for injured wing Matt Healy in just the third minute, and Jason Tovey put the visitors ahead with a penalty from close range two minutes later.
But Pat Lam’s men were not in the mood to lie down in front of an expectant Galway audience, and after their forwards earned a penalty on halfway from an Edinburgh scrum, Connacht were able to build the phases before Adeolokun pinned his ears back and charged over the whitewash.
Jack Carty made no mistake with the extras to make it 7-3, before adding the game’s second penalty inside the Edinburgh 22 moments later.
Gilchrist hit back for his side however in an end-to-end opening to the clash, after Tovey made a half break and set up his skipper to score a well-worked try.
Fly-half Tovey levelled the scores temporarily with the conversion, but that lasted all of two minutes as the visitors were penalised for coming in at the side and Carty struck his third kick from the tee through the posts.
Edinburgh spent most of the next quarter of an hour camped inside their own 22, but handling errors from the hosts and resolute scrimmaging from Duncan Hodge’s men kept the Guinness PRO12 champions at bay until the four minutes from the break.
But Roux finally breached their defences to go over in the right corner to make their pressure count – although Carty missed his first attempt of the evening to make it 18-10 at the interval.
Connacht came out flying after the interval, winning a penalty at the breakdown to kick to the Edinburgh 10-metre line, and Carty’s delightful one-handed offload saw Kelleher over for his first try for the club.
The visitors pushed hard for a way back into the contest, but once they finally forced their way into Connacht’s 22, a series of huge defensive tackles from the hosts forced the knock-on.
Connacht were able to stop a driving maul from Edinburgh in the 63rd minute, but it was game on again ten minutes from time as the Scots finally made all their pressure count.
Great handling from the Edinburgh backline bought Allen the space out wide to run in, although crucially Tovey’s conversion from out wide hit the post to keep Connacht eight points clear.
But in the end that miss did not prove decisive as the hosts secured their try bonus point just three minutes later, centre Robb racing into the corner to take the final score to 28-15.
Guinness PRO12 Final 2017 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 adults and €5 child, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie. For further information visit http://www.pro12rugby.com/final
29 Sep 2016
29 Sep 2016