Connacht’s brightest young talent will make their debuts for the province in the last of the three pre-season friendlies tomorrow night at the Galway Sportsground (6.30pm ).
Clifden’s Tiernan O’Halloran and Eoin Griffin from Knocknacarra have been named in Michael Bradley’s starting XV for their clash with English first divison outfit Rotherham Titans.
Both players were involved in schools’ rugby last year. O’Halloran is a product of Cistercian College, Roscrea, while Griffin came through Colaiste Iogniad which won the Connacht Senior Cup for the last two seasons. Both have been given development contracts with the province, and they will join another two new signings Mike McComish and Jamie Hagan for a first start at the Galway Sportsground.
It is understood outhalf Miah Nikora, who was originally selected on the starting XV, has been ruled out with a groin injury, and will be replaced by Ian Keatley.
Rotherham Titans arrive in Galway on the back of a 35 - 21 loss to premiership side Northampton. They finished 10th in their 16-team National Division One League, and one would expect Connacht to overcome this side tomorrow night. However against Northampton they proved a gritty outfit. In fact the first quarter belonged to Rotherham, and according to Northampton, the Titans’ scrum was nothing short of outstanding, no matter who had the put in. As a result they were able to negate much of the Saints’ possession, while also showing their skill out wide. They also created a couple of excellent try-scoring opportunities in the first quarter.
As a result Bradley and his coaching assistants Eric Elwood and Dan McFarland will be looking to see how Connacht’s set piece competes against the Titans - particularly the scrum where Jamie Hagan starts alongside stalwarts and Irish squad members Brett Wilkinson and Sean Cronin. Line-out variations will be tested with young David Nolan partnering Andrew Browne, while John Muldoon will lead the side from the backrow, alongside Ray Ofisa and Mike McComish.
In the backs Connacht have some talented youngsters and it will be interesting to see how they move the ball and how they can penetrate the Titans’ defence. Gavin Duffy is expected to line out at fullback, but if not fully recovered, Troy Nathan will make his third start. Young Tiernan O’Halloran and Fionn Carr are named on the wings, with Eoin Griffin joining Keith Matthew in the centre. It is expected Bradley will use his full complement of fit players on the bench.
Key to Connacht’s success this season will be the defence, and just how aggresssive at the breakdown and their ability to turn over ball will be tested tomorrow night against a side renowned for its hard graft. It is important Connacht get a win under their belts before the start of the Magners League next week.
This is the first and only opportunity supporters will have to see Connacht before the league starts. As a result supporters wearing Connacht jerseys will be admitted free. All children (u-18 ) will also be admitted free to the game.
Connacht (v Rotherham Titans ): G Duffy; T O’Halloran, E Griffin, K Matthews, F Carr; I Keatley, F Murphy; B Wilkinson, S Cronin, J Hagan; D Nolan, A Browne; J Muldoon, R Ofisa, M McComish.