Connacht return to the Stoop for final pre-season friendly

Connacht complete their pre-season fixture list when they return to the Stoop to face familiar foes Harlequins on Saturday (2.45pm ).

This will be a final opportunity for head coach Eric Elwood to test players in a competitive environment before the start of the Pro 12 season on September 1.

Elwood was encouraged with Connacht’s 8-6 victory over Exeter Chiefs last weekend with what was an experimental side in which a host of youngsters received game time. This weekend he is expected to change it around again to give some seasoned campaigners game time, although missing from the squad will be the four New Zealand tour players - Mike McCarthy, Gavin Duffy, Brett Wilkinson and Ronan Loughney. Also out of action is lock Dave Nolan who has broken his leg in training. It is a big blow for the 24-year-old who is expected to miss much of the season again having broken the same leg in a friendly last season.

In addition to the four players, those yet to feature are former Scottish international Dan Parks, Ethiene Reynecke, John Muldoon, Johnny O’Connor, Frank Murphy, Paul O’Donoghoe, Eoin Griffin, Dave McSharry, and new signing Danie Poolman.

Whatever squad Elwood selects, he will expect another workmanlike performance. Against Exeter Connacht bossed the exchanges, and physicality at the breakdown was a key factor in the victory.

After Miah Nikora opened the scoring on five minutes with a penalty, Connacht struck just before the hour mark when Connacht turned defence into attack, and it was Fetu Vainikolo who escaped Exeter’s Fijian centre Sireli Naqelevuki to score the game’s only try.

“It was very encouraging to see the way our boys stood up to them,” Elwood said. “There was a lot to be pleased about, particularly some of the younger players who looked right at home.”

Elwood used the chance to blood youngsters Kieran Marmion, Jack Carty, Robbie Henshaw, Finlay Bealham, Peter Reilly, Brian Murphy, JP Cooney and Mata Fafita, in addition to former former Leinster and Bristol hooker Jason Harris-Wright and Ulster Willie Faloon. And more good news for Connacht was the return of Andrew Browne who missed last season with injury.

Meanwhile more Conancht youngsters were in action when they took on the USA Collegiate All Americans on Saturday.

The American side prevailed by 19 - 17 in a tight contest at the Sportsground after the the Connacht Development XV led 14 3 at half time.

Chris Lilly and Steve McCauley opened with tries, both converted by centre Tadhg Leader, who also added a second-half penalty.

Connacht’s team manager Nigel Carolan said the game was important both for younger development players to have an opportunity and for coaches to look at players ahead of the Connacht Eagles debut in the British & Irish Cup.

The Connacht Development XV will play the Munster A on Thursday August 23 at the Sportsground.


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