Connacht will be wary of Jackman's fired-up Dragons

Connacht’s Jarrad Butler supported by Finlay Bealham in action against the  Southern Kings  at the Sportsground.            Photograph: Mike Shaughnessy

Connacht’s Jarrad Butler supported by Finlay Bealham in action against the Southern Kings at the Sportsground. Photograph: Mike Shaughnessy

Connacht are preparing for a real backlash from Bernard Jackman's Dragons when the two sides meet in Rodney Parade on Friday night.

In Connacht's first away fixture of this season's Guinness Pro 14, they will face a Dragons' side stung from two previous defeats, and with former Connacht and Ireland hooker Jackman installed as their new head coach, a real battle is expected between the two sides.

There is no doubt Jackman will be targeting Connacht as their best opportunity to get a win, and his former team mate and now Connacht's back coach, Nigel Carolan, expects a testing night for his squad.

"Historically Connacht never had to easy at Rodney Parade and we can't hide from that fact. Coupled with the new broom in their coaching team - and they are very much energised by that - they are home again and they will be looking to us to pick us off again.

"Jackman is trying to rebuild the Dragons and create a strong identity," says Carolan who played alongside the former Clontarf man under Warren Gatland. "They will be a tight-knit group, much like he did in Grenoble, and they were difficult to play against.

"He is trying to play an expansive game, and they have some real firepower with Ashton Hewitt and and Zane Kircher, and the old boot of Gavin Henson who can kick them into positions."

Although Glasgow finished comfortably last weekend with a 47-17 at Scotstoun, it was "only late in the game when the Scots pulled away".

"It is going to be a very difficult game for us and we have to make sure we build on last week and are more effective than we were," Carolan says.

Dragons and the Southern Kings are propping up Conference B, the only two teams without a championship point, while Connacht are currently third in Conference A behind leaders Munster and the Warriors. However Connacht lost 21-16 last November in Rodney Parade, with Hewitt bagging two tries, and Carolan says their forwards are just as effective.

"They have a very effective line-out defence, and they will not give us an easy platform. If their team gets on top, it is a difficult place to claw back from, so we have to make sure we get a strong foothold in the game early and hopefully silence the crowd as early as we can.

"We need to up the standard of last week. While we got the bonus point, we probably made it a little hard for ourselves, so we need to ensure we iron out those crevices this week."

Connacht is expected to make some changes "to rest players", but new outhalf Andrew Deegan is not expected to feature after his arrival last week, while Carolan believes Rory Scholes, "effective in training, has a real spark", will start to feature in the next couple of weeks.

A big boost is that scrumhalf Caolin Blade and the Ireland trio, Finlay Bealham, Quinn Roux, and Tieran O'Halloran, came through last weekend's game with no recurrence of recent injuries. Lock Andrew Browne is recovering from an Achilles injury and is a possible starter, while Sean O'Brien was due to have a scan on his shoulder today (Wednesday ). scrumhalf James Mitchell (shoulder ), centre Peter Robb (hip surgery ) and Niyi Adeolokun (knee ) are all ruled out.

Another win would certainly boost the feel-good factor that was evident at the Sportsground last Saturday in an historic first meeting with South African side Southern Kings.

Connacht grabbed a deserved bonus point win by 32-10 on a night the Sportsground celebrated with the All Ireland-winning Galway hurlers and the Liam McCarthy Cup.

Although it took Connacht until the 70th minute to nail down the bonus point, having led 24-5 at the break, coach Kieran Keane was both positive and relieved.

"I was a bit nervous before today. To get a win and a bonus point win is a massive fillip. I think it brings more belief within the side and for the coaching staff, and for the whole place really.

"We are still making small steps. I don't think we need to get ahead of ourselves. We are making gains and moving forward, so that is a real big plus for me.

"There was more polish in handling, better decisions, the work rate was good, the energy was good, set piece was good, particularly the scrum, so it was just a better step up and we needed to do that, so that is really positive."

The home side dominated possession and territory in the opening half, winning a succession of penalties, a third which saw Kings' left wing Sibusiso Sithole yellow carded for a spear tackle on Jack Carty. From Darragh Leader's touch-finder, the pack drove the hard yards before centre Tom Farrell broke through three tacklers to touch down, with Carty adding the extras.

Connacht's dominance of the set piece provided Carty with a chance to extend the lead with a penalty before the Kings opened their tally with a well-worked try finished by centre Berton Klaasen after 32 minutes.

Connacht's riposte was swift. Forcing their way upfield, with Jarrad Butler and Farrell making incisive runs, scrumhalf Kieran Marmion made a sniping break from a ruck, and with quick hands,supplied replacement Eoghan Masterson who touched down, with Carty again converting.

With Bundee Aki's influence growing, and the scrum dominant, Connacht maintained controlled Ultan Dillane crashing over, helped by captain John Muldoon and Masterson. Carty's conversion and a penalty six minutes after the restart stretched the home side's lead to 27-5.

The Kings dominated the majority of a scrappy second half, not helped by a yellow card to Finlay Bealham for a high tackle. Although replacement prop Luvuyo Pupuma was denied a try after TMO revealed a knock-on, he did grab a consolation try in the 77th minute. Of more consequence was Connacht's fourth try to seal the bonus point, secured by Darragh Leader seven minutes earlier.

Yellow cards: Southern Kings, L Vulindlu (11 ); Connacht, F Bealham (52m ); J Muldoon (76 ).

Connacht: T O’Halloran; D Leader, Farrell, B Aki, M Healy; J Carty, K Marmion; D Buckley, T McCartney, F Bealham; U Dillane, J Cannon; S O’Brien, J Butler, J Muldoon. Replacements: E Masterson for O'Brien (31 ), D Coulson for Buckley (50 ), C Carey for Leader (55-62 ), S Crosbie for Carty and D Heffernan for McCartney (53 ), Q Roux for Dillane (55 ), C Blade for Marmion (58 ), E Griffin for Farrell (63 ).

Southern Kings: M Banda; Y Penxe, B Klaasen, L Vulindlu, S Sithole; K Coleman, G Masimla; S Ferreira, M Willemse, R de Klerk ; J van Vuuren, D van Schalkwyk; K Majola, V Sekekete, A Ntsila. Replacments, E Swanepoel for de Klerk (42 ), O Zono for Coleman and R van Rooyen for G Masimla (both 53 ), S Mdaka for Majola (62 ), J Nel for Vulindlu (64 ), B de Wee for Sekekete (68 ), S Coetzee for Willemes.


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