Connacht wary of Dragon's lair

After a brief respite, Connacht Rugby return to action with an unusual Thursday (this evening ) Pro 12 fixture against Newport Gwent Dragons in Newport (7.30pm ).

Expectations have grown considerably since Connacht's victory over Scarlets 12 days ago, and on paper, Connacht, in third place, deservedly look favourites against the Dragons in 10th place. However it belies the strength of Lyn Jones' side, particularly at home where they have taken the scalps of both Leinster and Munster this season. Their five losing bonus points is indicative of just how close they have run their opponents, while they are also through to the Challenge Cup quarter-finals.

Despite Connacht's strong record, Lam says the Dragons present a real test at Rodney Parade.

"We have spoken about it. Although we have not lost to them for a while, they are always tough to put away. We know it starts up front, and coming off a good performance up front [against Scarlets], we need to build on that.

"We are under no illusions going down there, as Leinster and Munster found out, and we don't want to fall in that trap."

Lam has made only three changes to his starting XV with Aj MacGinty coming in for the injured Jack Carty. Craig Ronaldson offers support to MacGinty, taking over at inside centre with Bundee Aki moving to 13, while up front the only change is Rodney Ah You who comes in for Finlay Bealham. Bealham, along with Ultan Dillane and scrumhalf Kieran Marmion have been released this week from Joe Schmidt's Ireland squad, and are all named on the bench.

"It's great to have Kieran [Marmion] Finlay [Bealham] and Ultan [Dillane] back from Irish camp for this game, but given that they haven't trained with us this week, they will add impact from the bench. With a short week in terms of preparation and travel, we began our planning for Dragons before the break and the boys returned on Monday refreshed and eager to get back into their work."

Lam also spent some time taking a much-needed break after the run of 16 games, but watched the recent Dragons game with Ulster on video.

"While away in Spain I downloaded the game and watched it on the flight home and they should have won without a doubt. They have completely changed their attack shape, and improved a lot. They absolutely deserved a very good win against Leinster too."

The first of four games, which include Zebre (away ), Ospreys, and Edinburgh (away ), Lam is hoping to pick the "strongest possible team" for this series.

"There is positivity - with the last couple of games and also a reflection of what we have done and what we have been through - but now we are back on a new start line. We have worked ourselves to the front, and now it is how we stay at the front starting this week."

Aside from Carty's unfortunate accident and a hamstring injury to Shane O'Leary, there is good news on the injury front. Flanker Sean O'Brien should be returning after following concussion protocols, Jason Harris Wright has been cleared to play (concussion ), and prop JP Cooney featured for Garryowen last weekend after shoulder injury in October. John Cooney is looking to be ready for the Ospreys fixture, lock Ben Marshall is being reviewed by the surgeon with a possible return next week, Andrew Browne is possibly two/three weeks recovering from shoulder injury, Quinn Roux is another three/four weeks away, while Ciaran Caffney is close to a return following a use fracture playing for the Eagles.

Connacht: T O'Halloran, D Poolman, B Aki, C Ronaldson, M Healy, A MacGinty, C Blade, B Buckley, T McCartney, R Ah You, A Muldowney, G Naoupu, J Muldoon (cpt ), J Heenan, E Masterson. Replacements, D Heffernan, R Loughney, F Bealham, U Dillane, E McKeon, K Marmion, P Robb, R Parata.


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