Irish players return to duty for Gloucester test

After a useful workout in London, Connacht now head to Gloucester for their second pre-season challenge this weekend.

The former English premiership champions will provide a stern test for Connacht in this their first meeting between the sides at Kingsholm on Saturday (3pm ).

As expected coach Michael Bradley is introducing the Churchill Cup and Irish squad players who missed last weekend’s first pre-season fixture against Harlequins at the Stoop. One early casualty is Gavin Duffy who is recovering from a knee injury, while Liam Bibo has only recently returned from Australia where he was completing his pharmacy practicals.

Keith Matthews, Ian Keatley, and Frank Murphy are named in the starting XV, while in the pack a new front row that includes new Irish squad members, Brett Wilkinson and Sean Cronin, lines out. Andrew Browne gets the nod to partner Bernie Upton in the second row, while Ray Ofisa and captain John Muldoon will come into the backrow.

Gloucester, now under former Scottish scrumhalf Bryan Redpath’s coaching, will present a new challenge for Connacht. They boast a squad of 37 players, including some big names - not least former All Blacks Carlos Spencer and Greg Sommerville, England stars Lesley Vainikolo, Mike Tindall, Olly Morgan, and Tom Voyce, in addition to the more familiar Nicky Robinson who joined from Cardiff. Last week they drew 19 - 19 with Bath, and they can be expected to give Connacht a stiff test up front, particularly in the scrums, while their backline possesses considerable power and pace.

They will be tougher opponents than Quins last week, who edged the contest by 15 - 14. Connacht took the lead after seven minutes with a Miah Nikora penalty before England u-20 star George Lowe won the chase from a grubber kick underneath the posts. Rory Clegg converted to add the extra two points before both outhalves exchanged three-pointers.

Connacht enjoyed some dominance, forcing some desperate defending on the line, but they had to rely on Nikora who added one of two more penalties before the break to close the gap to 10 - 9 at the break.

Clegg scored a try just after the retart when breaking through the Connacht defence, but Connacht hit came back. Extensive pressure on the Quins’ defence was eventually rewarded when new signing Brian Tuohy scored an unconverted try in the right corner.

Connacht (v Gloucester ): T Nathan; B Touhy, N Ta’auso, K Matthews, F Carr; I Keatley, F Murphy; B Wilkinson, S Cronin, R Morris; A Browne, B Upton; M McCarthy, R Ofisa, J Muldoon. Replacements: A Flavin, R Loughney, J Hagan, M Swift, M McComish, C O’Loughlin, A Wynne, E Griffin, T O’Halloran.

2009/10 Connacht squad (currently 27 + two contracts to fill ): Backs, Gavin Duffy, Troy Nathan*, Brian Touhy•, Liam Bibo, Fionn Carr, Keith Matthews, Niva Ta’auso, Aiden Wynne, Ian Keatley, Miah Nikora•, Frank Murphy, Conor O’Loughlin, Kieran Campbell.

Forwards: Brett Wilkinson, Ronan Loughney, Robbie Morris, Jamie Hagan•, Sean Cronin, Adrian Flavin, Andrew Browne*, Bernie Upton•, Michael Swift, Mike McCarthy, John Muldoon, Johnny O’Connor, Ray Ofisa, Mike McComish•.

Development players: Eoin Griffin, Tiernan O’Halloran, Dermot Murphy, David Nolan.

Academy players: Conor Higgins.

*Promoted from development contract.

• New signings.

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