Connacht host a Dragons side looking to climb up Conference B at the Sportsground in the second of Saturday’s Guinness PRO14 fixtures.
The Newport-based team will be looking for a reaction, coming into the game off the back of three consecutive defeats.
The hosts, meanwhile, after losing to a last-gasp score at Ospreys in the last round, will want to put that disappointment behind them.
What’s at stake?
Defeat for both teams on the road last weekend sees Connacht now sit fifth in Conference A while their opponents this weekend are sixth in Conference B, level on points with bottom side Southern Kings.
Connacht have been strong at home this season, with their only defeat coming at the hands of Leinster, while the Dragons are still searching for a first away win of the campaign in the Guinness PRO14, although they were victorious on their travels in Europe.
The Dragons were 21-8 winners at Rodney Parade in the only meeting between the sides last season.
Team News (Connacht): Eoin Griffin looks set to make his 100th appearance in a Connacht jersey after being named on the bench. The Galway man made his Connacht debut in 2010 and is in his second term with the province.
Head coach Friend has been forced into making several changes to the team that lost at Ospreys but news of Kieran Marmion’s availability, who starts at scrum-half as he prepares for the upcoming home November internationals, is a timely boost.
Jarrad Butler doing what Jarrad Butler does best 💪 pic.twitter.com/bMJoufJ4uo
— Connacht Rugby (@connachtrugby) 2 November 2018
David Horwitz will make his first start for the province at out-half while Kyle Godwin also comes into the midfield to partner Tom Farrell.
In the back three there is a start for Colm De Buitlear on the wing, Conor Carey steps in for Finlay Bealham in the forwards, James Cannon comes into the second row for Quinn Roux and captain Jarrad Butler will start at number 8 with Colby Fainga’a slotting in at openside.
Team News (Dragons): Three changes have been made by head coach Bernard Jackman as the trio of Hallam Amos, Joe Davies and Taine Basham are all handed starts.
Wales international Amos makes his playing return at outside centre after recovering from the dislocated elbow he sustained at Leinster in mid-September.
Lock Davies comes into the second row to partner Lewis Evans, with Matthew Screech ruled out with an ankle injury.
There is also a first Guinness PRO14 start of the season for Wales Under-20 international Basham, who impressed off the bench in Belfast last week.
Talking points: Connacht head coach Andy Friend said: “Eoin Griffin is the ultimate professional rugby player, who is an example to every up and coming player in the province. It is fitting that he is making his 100th appearance in front of his home crowd. It is a significant milestone for him and his family and everyone in Connacht Rugby.
“We’ve got to be a team that can adapt. If we’re allowed to get the quick ball and play the way we want, we will threaten any side.”
Dragons head coach Bernard Jackman said: “Hallam (Amos) is one of our most talented players and we want to get him on the ball as much as possible,” said Jackman, reflecting on the team selection.
— Dragons 🏉 (@dragonsrugby) 2 November 2018
“With the anticipated conditions in Galway, it will be hard to get into the wide channels and with Tyler Morgan away we can have a look at Hallam at 13 and get him involved.
“They (Connacht) won’t have been happy with the previous game with Ospreys and they will want to put that right on home soil. We must expect a backlash.”
Irish international Kieran Marmion’s availability is a major plus point for the hosts and he could play a key hand in his side’s fate in the contest.
Starting at scrum-half, the man capped 22 times at international level has been a rock for Connacht this season and his opposite number Rhodri Williams will have a tough task up against him on Saturday evening.
Key fact: Dragons have won two of their last three fixtures against Connacht following on from a sequence of seven straight defeats to the Irishmen.
Did you know? Connacht have won their last two home games against Welsh regions, beating Ospreys in February and Scarlets in September.
Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, Cian Kelleher, Kyle Godwin, Tom Farrell, Colm De Buitlear, David Horwitz, Kieran Marmion, Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Conor Carey, Ultan Dillane, James Cannon, Sean O’Brien, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (c)
Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Matthew Burke, Conan O’Donnell, Joe Maksymiw, James Connolly, Caolin Blade, Jack Carty, Eoin Griffin
Dragons: Jordan Williams, Dafydd Howells, Hallam Amos, Jarryd Sage, Will Talbot-Davies, Jason Tovey, Rhodri Williams; Brok Harris, Richard Hibbard (c), Lloyd Fairbrother, Joe Davies, Lewis Evans, Harrison Keddie, Nic Cudd, Taine Basham
Replacements: Rhys Lawrence, Aaron Jarvis, Dan Suter, James Thomas, Huw Taylor, Tavis Knoyle, Jack Dixon, Adam Warren
TV: At the Sportsground, Galway, 5.15pm. Live on TG4, S4C, Premier Sports.
Referee: Quinton Immelman (SARU, 14th competition game).
Assistant Referees: Johnny Erskine, Rob O’Sullivan (both IRFU).
Citing Commissioner: John Cole (IRFU).
TMO: Leo Colgan (IRFU).
A three-try burst midway through the first half guided Connacht to a comfortable 33-12 win against the Dragons in the Guinness PRO14.
Scores from James Cannon, Darragh Leader and Colby Fainga’a in a stretch of six minutes saw the Irish side pull away from their opponents in the first half at the Sportsground.
Hooker Tom McCartney and centre Thomas Farrell added scores for Connacht either side of half time.
— Connacht Rugby (@connachtrugby) November 3, 2018
It could have been worse for the Welsh side, who scored a consolation tries through Hallam Amos and Taine Basham in the second half, as Connacht had two other scores ruled out following interventions by TMO Leo Colgan.
Dragons No.8 Basham twice broke through the Connacht defensive line in the opening 20 minutes but scrum-half Rhodri Williams and winger Dafydd Howells could not gather the back-rower’s offloads.
They were made to pay as Connacht second row Cannon touched down after the Irish side drove a maul over the tryline after 23 minutes.
The home side added a second try through winger Leader, his first for the club this season. He had a clear run to the corner thanks to sharp hands from full-back Tiernan O’Halloran.
Australian back-rower Fainga’a finished an 80-metre break on 29 minutes to make it 19-0 to Connacht and notch his first try for the club since joining from Melbourne Rebels this summer.
He ran in from 35 metres after an attack involving O’Halloran, winger Colm de Buitlear and Farrell.
— Spórt TG4 (@SportTG4) November 3, 2018
It looked to have got worse for the Dragons with Leader seeming to have added a fourth try three minutes later when Jordan Williams clearing kick was charged down.
The deflection went straight into the Connacht winger’s hands but was ruled out for offside as he was in front of O’Halloran who blocked the kick.
Just before half-time it did get worse for the Welsh side.
Connacht pummelled the defensive line for 14 phases before McCartney touched down to secure the bonus point before half-time, leaving the score 26-0.
Kieran Marmion thought he had extended the Irish team’s lead early in the second half after bursting off the back of a ruck from five metres.
But it was ruled out when Ultan Dillane was deemed to have held Dragons replacement second row James Thomas shirt, leaving him unable to make a tackle.
Winger Amos got on the scoreboard for the Dragons after 56 minutes.
— Dragons 🏉 (@dragonsrugby) November 3, 2018
The Wales international, who has 18 caps, was playing at centre and scored his fourth career try against Connacht as he touched down after weaving around the defence.
Connacht centre Farrell added his own try with ten minutes to go, dodging two defenders before touching down. Replacement fly-half Jack Carty added the conversion to make it 33-5.
The Dragons continued to attack late on and Basham was rewarded for his hard work with a score on the last play of the game to make it 33-12 thanks to a conversion from Jason Tovey.