Elwood to ‘freshen up’ Connacht

Connacht are back on the road again looking to maintain their recent RaboDirect Pro 12 form which has seen them collect six points from their previous two home games.

Now they travel into the heartland of Welsh rugby for tomorrow evening’s clash with the Scarlets who have not been beaten at home in their last six matches.

Although Connacht have not won in Llanelli since 2004, they have been close on a number of occasions. Last season Connacht looked set to take the points when leading 33 - 30, but they were denied with a Sean Lamont try deep in injury time.

Scarlets, as always, have title aspirations, and although currently in seventh place, they are just three points adrift of fourth-placed Glasgow. They will be missing a handful of World Cup players, but last week’s victory over Treviso, in which they recovered from a poor start to win 34 - 20, gives a clear indication of their experience and strength.

Despite last weekend’s valuable win against Edinburgh, coach Eric Elwood continues to look for improvement.

“We know there is huge amount of improvement needed. Last weekend we were not at our best, but we are going to the Scarlets with optimism.”

Elwood has restricted training this week to one session to allow a longer recovery period.

“ We have a lot of tired and sore bodies with the same guys rocking up week-in week-out. We felt we were a little flat last weekend and have put that down to the fatigue factor. Hopefully, having been given time off, we will get that freshness we need for tomorrow’s game and get that something extra.”

Connacht’s preparations have also been hampered by illness and national training. Niall O’Connor will be out of action for up to a month as a result of a hairline fracture. John Muldoon, Adrian Flavin and Dave Gannon are doubtful, as are Brett Wilkinson and Mike McCarthy who are involved in Irish training.

Changes expected

As a result Elwood may be forced to make several changes to his starting line-up. Outhalf Miah Nikora is likely to be given the nod this weekend in preference to Matthew Jarvis, while Eoin Griffin and Dave McSharry will be looking to renew their centre partnership after returning to full fitness. In the pack Ray Ofisa is a likely starter in the backrow alongside George Naoupu. However Elwood has several options in the front and second rows if players are unavailabble. Denis Buckley did well last weekend, but it is also possible new recruit Peter Borlase could make his first appearance for the province. Mick Kearney and Dave Gannon, if recovered, will also be considered as a second-row partner for Michael Swift, while Eoin Grace and Eoin McKeown are possible backrow options.

Connacht know what to expect from the Scarlets and will travel with an extra pep in their step after securing a much-awaited RaboDirect Pro 12 victory against Michael Bradley’s Edinburgh last weekend. Connacht denied their visitors a bonus point when Mike McCarthy grabbed a second try in the last minute of the match for a 26 - 13 win.

Although Edinburgh started the livelier, they missed two kickable opportunities, while Niall O'Connor nailed a 21st minute effort for Connacht. As the home side’s scrum established dominance in the set piece, it provided the breakthrough which resulted in right wing Fetu Vainikolo claiming his first try for Connacht, and O'Connor’s conversion stretched the lead to 10 - 0.

O'Connor added an early second-half penalty before Edinburgh opened their tally within two minutes when O'Connor's attempted clearance was charged down, and leading try scorer Tim Visser pounced for his 15th try of the season. Connacht looked home and dried when Edinburgh's Tom Brown was sinbinned for not releasing in the tackle and O'Connor capitalised with another three points. However Bradley's outfit hit bck again. Fullback Chris Paterson ran in for a try in the corner with Godman's conversion hitting the upright, but when the replacement outhalf struck a 50th minute penalty, Connacht's lead had been whittled down to just three. It stung the home side into a response. Replacement Matthew Jarvis stroked home a 68th minute penalty, and with the last play of the game, Connacht denied their visitors a bonus point when lock Mike McCarthy sealed their first victory since September, with Jarvis adding the extras.

 Connacht v Edinburgh: G Duffy ; F Vainikolo, K Tonetti, H Fa'afili T O'Halloran; N O'Connor, F Murphy; D Buckley, A Flavin, R Loughney, M Swift, M McCarthy, J Muldoon, E Grace, G Naoupu. Replacements, R Ofisa for Grace (50 ), E Griffin for Fa’afili (53 ), B Wilkinson for Buckley (54 ), M Jarvis for O’Connor (56 ), E Reynecke for Flavin (61 ), S Maguire for Loughney (76 ).


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