Connacht expect backlash in first away test

Connacht outhalf IanKeatley displays both pace and determination in Saturday’s opening day Magners League victory over the Dragons.  
				Photo: Mike Shaughnessy.

Connacht outhalf IanKeatley displays both pace and determination in Saturday’s opening day Magners League victory over the Dragons. Photo: Mike Shaughnessy.

Connacht’s away form, so poor in previous seasons, gets its first test on Saturday when they face the Scarlets at Parc Y Scarlets (3pm ).

Boosted by last weekend’s 40 - 17 demolition of the Dragons at the Galway Sportsground, Connacht head coach Eric Elwood now wants to translate that form away from home, starting on Saturday.

"We have a massive challenge over the next two weeks. Our away form is well documented and that's the challenge going forward - to become competitive away from home and give a good account of ourselves.

" With the record we have had over there, they would fancy themselves to win and win with five points. Conversely we are looking to improve our away form, and that's the way we are going to approach it.

"Last week we were all up-tight, with it being the first game and at home. We would have targeted that match, so to get the victory and the bonus point, we are ecstatic. The key for us on Saturday is that we need to be in the game. We are looking to put the pressure on the Scarlets and bring our game to them,” he says.

“ There is a new mentality, and we are going out to win this game, but we have to be competitive and in the game first of all. If we do that, then we would fancy our chances."

Connacht, however, will have to do it without new signing Ezra Taylor who is expected to be out for six weeks. Making his competitive debut against the Dragons, the No 8 was forced to retire with knee ligament damage and Connacht are still awaiting the results of Monday’s scan.

With captain John Muldoon, Johnny O'Connor, and Andrew Browne all out of action, it is causing Elwood more headaches.

“ Last week we had a problem in the front row, and now we have a dilemma in the back row. Andrew Browne is not yet up to speed with his injury and it is not something we want to rush so we are looking at a temporary replacement to get us out of a hole," he says.

"We have made a couple of enquiries, but nothing has come out those yet.”

Centre Niva Ta'auso is also doubtful having pulled out of training on Tuesday with a hamstring strain, and Elwood says no decision will be made on his availability until Connacht travel to Wales.

After last week’s bright opening display, Elwood is not expected to make any changes to his starting XV other than those necessitated by injury. Mike McComish will slot into No 8 for Taylor, and it is expected young Shane Conneely, who has been training with the squad throughout the pre-season, will travel as cover.

It will be a tough ask for Connacht against a side smarting from their opening day defeat to newcomers Treviso, and Elwood is expecting a backlash. It is a real test of the new management team. While the result will not make or break the season, it will give a indication of Connacht’s self-belief.

Commitment was certainly not lacking against the Dragons as the home side carved out a rare four-try bonus point win, consigning the Welsh visitors to a seventh loss at the Sportsground.

Superior in the set piece, intense in defence and accurate in attack - a strategy based on a quicker tempo than Connacht usually play - Connacht held the initiative for long periods.

They led 20-9 at the break - scoring after three minutes when Niva Ta'auso burst through the midfield cover from Taylor's line-out ball and openside Ray Ofisa touched down under the posts. The second try on 32 minutes came via Taylor again, and with support from Jamie Hagan, Irish international Cronin finished off for a 20-3 lead. Keatley, who contributed 25 points to the game, added the conversions and two first-half penalties.

The dominance in the set piece provided Connacht with go-forward ball, and Gavin Duffy, as always, instigated the counterattack, while Fionn Carr always looked to be involved.

While both sides had players yellow-carded - Taylor sinbinned for a high tackle on Jason Tovey, and Gavin Duffy for failing to retreat after pulling off a try-saving tackle on Luke Charteris - it was Connacht who coped better. Although the Dragons reduced the arrears, 20 - 12, and starved Connacht of ball for 12 minutes of the second half, the home side’s superior commitment in the tackle and intensity at the breakdown proved decisive.

A super break from Keatley - a forerunner to the outhalf's try on 67 minutes which gave Connacht their bonus point - set up a 53rd minute penalty, while the front row of Brett Wilkinson, Sean Cronin and Jamie Hagan gave their side the upper hand. A 59th minute penalty was the precursor to a penalty try after a series of collapsed scrums on 65 minutes, stretching the lead to 33 - 12 and putting the match beyond any doubt

Connacht: Gavin Duffy, Troy Nathan, Niva Ta’auso, Keith Matthews, Fionn Carr, Ian Keatley, Frank Murphy, Brett Wilkinson, Sean Cronin, Jamie Hagan, Michael Swift, Bernie Upton, Michael McCarthy, Ray Ofisa, Ezra Taylor. Replacements: Adrian Flavin for Cronin, Ronan Loughney for Wilkinson, Mike McComish for McCarthy (all 56 ), Dave Nolan for Taylor (58m ), Rob Sweeney for Hagan(69m ), Cillian Willis for Murphy (63m ), Miah Nikora for Keatley (69m ), Tiernan O’Halloran for Duffy (69 ).

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