Connacht take a welcome break from competitive action to host international side Manu Samoa at the Galway Sportsground on Tuesday (7.05pm ). It is the second time Samoa has visited Galway ( in 1988 as Western Samoa ) and two years since Connacht played an international XV when they overcame Portugal 27 - 11.
Connacht coach Eric Elwood says to play against an international team is both exciting and challenging. “They are an international team and it a huge challenge for us, but it is a good opportunity for the lads to play against top-quality opposition.”
Samoa, having competed in every Rugby World Cup since the 1991, arrive in Galway with a reputation for hard physical play which saw them make the quarter-finals in both 1991 and 1995. They are back on the World Cup stage next year in New Zealand, having won the Oceania qualifying series, and their fixture against Connacht is part of their Northern Hemisphere tour to play Ireland, Scotland and England. Now ranked 11th in the world after their recent win over Japan, a large bulk of their squad play in Europe and most of the island’s players have been educated in New Zealand, predominantly in Auckland where Samoans make up the majority of Pacific Islanders. As a result many Samoans play for New Zealand, notably Mils Muliana, Ma'a Nonu, Rodney So'oialo,Jerome Kaino, and Keven Mealamu.
Among the Samoan players who togged out against Japan last week was former Connacht player Ofisa Trevaranus, brother of Connacht flanker Ray, while another former Connacht player, Gavin Williams, is expected to be in the European party.
“We are expecting another physical challenge as Samoa has a reputation for physicality, particularly in the tackle,” says Elwood. “ We will be taking that into account when selecting our squad. While it is an opportunity to play some of the younger players, we also need some experience, so we will mix the team up.” Unfortunately Connacht’s two Samoan players Ray Ofisa and NivaTa’asuo will not be facing their home nation having suffered injuries against Treviso last weekend. Niva Ta’auso’s fractured eye-socket and nose is expected to rule him out of action until January, while Ofisa could be out for two months with a fractured cheek-bone.
However it is likely several players who have featured on the bench could be selected such as Ezra Taylor, Ronan Loughney, Bernie Upton, Darragh Fanning, Shane Monaghan, Rob Sweeney, in addition to young Eoin Griffin, who having recovered from a hand injury, has been in top form for Corinthians. “It’s a great opportunity for some of our younger players to show what they can do and to challenge for places in upcoming Magners League matches, but we will need to mix and match the team as we need to be competitive.”
A fine evening at the Galway Sportsground should produce an entertaining fixture and give Connacht a welcome rest after three tough competitive matches. Last weekend’s fixture against Treviso was another demanding challenge, but Connacht came through with an away losing bonus point. “We had two or three opportunities to win in the last couple of minutes,” says Elwood. “We go to win every game, but to get the bonus point against a team like Treviso who target their home games means we got something for our efforts.”
Although Connacht started well with an Adrian Flavin try which Ian Keatley converted, the home side took control courtesy of scrumhalf Tobias Botes who kicked three penalties and added the conversion to outhalf Kristopher Burton’s try. Although Keatley struck penalty before the break, closing the gap to six points, Treviso once again crossed the whitewash to extend the lead to 11. However Connacht, boosted by replacements, created several opportunities. Fionn Carr set up the second try, outwitting three defenders before the suppporting Frank Murphy found Niva Ta’auso out wide who finished off in the 63rd minute.
However Connacht failed to convert chances. When Botes struck a late penalty, Connacht became the fourth Magners League team to lose at Stadio di Monigo, but had secured another valuable point on the road.