Connacht have been forced to make a couple of changes for their first away match in this season’s second Magners League fixture.
When they travel to Edinburgh on Friday (KO 7.30pm ), they will be without key centre Niva Ta’auso who fractured a bone in his hand against the Ospreys in their opening match last Friday. The Samoan-born centre was to receive an up-dated medical opinion yesterday with a view to operation. As a result coach Michael Bradley has opted to bring Troy Nathan into the centre, with Gavin Duffy, another option, remaining at fullback. Up front Bretty Wilkinson is also out with a broken finger, while Robbie Morris, who was replaced last week, is also on the injured list. As a result Ronan Loughney is expected to come in to partner Sean Cronin and Jamie Hagan in the front row. Mike McCarthy, who has recovered from a pre-season injury, is likely to be named among the replacements.
Connacht does not have a favourable recent record against Edinburgh, and on Friday they are up against a side that Bradley admits has “quiet ambitions to be in the top four”.
Last season Edinburgh won all but one of their home matches in the Magners League en route to finishing second in the table. And new coach Rob Moffat, who succeeded Andy Robinson, has promised fans his team will employ an entertaining brand of rugby without losing sight of their primary goal - to win matches.
Last weekend they opened with a deserved victory over Cardiff in Wales. Connacht caption John Muldoon says they looking very strong.
“They had an excellent win against Cardiff and obviously their new coach has introduced a different type of game plan. Traditionally Edinburgh liked to move the ball around, but they have added more direction to their game and they look really strong.”
With Phil Godman pulling the strings at outhalf, he is a major player for Edinburgh, backed up by scrumhalf Mike Blair, if playing, Chris Paterson whose goal-kicking prowess will punish indiscretions, and wingers with pace out wide.
Muldoon is hoping the pack can get more change from Edinburgh than they did against the Ospreys when they went down 19 - 12 at the Galway Sportsground. Two sin-binnings, Mike McComish and scrumhalf Frank Murphy, in the second half proved costly as Edinburgh took advantage, driving over the line for the only try of the game. Bradley says Connacht are appealing the first sin-binning, although he does not believe either was legitimate.
“We didn’t get as much go forward from the pack as we would have liked. I think defence has been one of our strong points for the last few games. We were down to 13 men when the Ospreys scored and they taught us a lesson how ruthless you can be when people are down a man - they didn’t really get close to breaking our line bar that.” Muldoon said.
Connacht certainly had the better of the first half with Keatley stroking them ahead with two penalties after Dan Biggar had opened the scoring with a drop goal. Keatley had been instrumental in the attack, breaking through from his own half, and with the Ospreys' defence scrambling back, Keatley was able to step inside the retreating Ospreys' three-quarter before finding Niva Ta'auso with a long looping pass . From the ensuing rucks, the Ospreys were caught offside, and Keatley put the home side ahead. Gaining in confidence from those scores, the home side dominated possession and territory, but they were unable to convert their chances.
Instead it was the Ospreys, boasting 13 internationals on their starting XV, who seized control. Biggar added a 43rd-minute penalty to level the scores after some fine pressure from the backs forced a five-metre scrum on the Connacht line. When No 8 Mike McComish was yellow-carded Biggar stroked his side ahead. Worse followed when scrumhalf Frank Murphy was also sent to the bin just three minutes later. It proved the turning point as the Ospreys took full advantage.
Connacht, however, were rewarded for their efforts with a bonus point when they came within seven points at the death.
“We are disappointed with the loss. We have set our goals and sights higher this year. But in hindsight when you look back in previous years we would not have got that point.”
Now Connacht’s task is to finish off try-scoring chances - something Michael Bradley says is frustrating.
“ It’s about attention to detail. You put yourself in position to win matches, you get the territory and possession and don’t convert - that’s most frustrating for players and managers.” Connacht v Edinburgh (probable ): G Duffy, B Tuohy, T Nathan, K Matthews, F Carr, I Keatley, F Murphy, R Loughney, S Cronin, J Hagan, A Browne, B Upton, J Muldoon (cpt ), R Ofisa, M McComish.