Connacht have a great opportunity to continue their momentum in the RaboDirect Pro 12 when they take on Newport Gwent Dragons in Wales this evening (7pm ). Having moved up the table following their merited 18-3 victory over Treviso before the autumn international break, Connacht coach Eric Elwood will be keen to ensure they keep ahead of their opponents. Traditionally fixtures between the two clubs have been tight affairs with the home side edging the result, but last season’s 27 - 19 victory in Rodney Parade ensured Connacht achieved a season double over the Dragons.
On that occasion Connacht displayed real attacking prowess in the opening half and a well organised and committed second-half defensive display, and Elwood will expect the same again. However the Dragons, in 11th place, enter this fixture having lost seven on the trot, and they will view Connacht as a chance to get their league campaign back on track.
Both sides have been hit by the international series and Elwood will be without John Muldoon whose knee ligament injury during last weekend’s Ireland international against Fiji is expected to keep him sidelined for a few months. The loss of this talismanic figure is a huge loss for Connacht. There are just three changes to the team that beat Benetton Treviso 18-3 in round 8. Gavin Duffy, captain, makes a welcome return to the Connacht line-up this week, starting on the wing. The skipper, who was unavailable for a number of weeks due to injury, made an appearance at the 73rd minute in the last round against Italian side Treviso and touched down for a try after just a minute on the pitch.
There are no further changes to the backline. Danie Poolman, on his third outing for the province, joins Dave McSharry in the centre while Tiernan O'Halloran is named at right-wing.
Meanwhile, up front there are two changes to the pack with Mick Kearney replacing Mike McCarthy who remains on international duty this week. Kearney is joined in the second row by Michael Swift, who makes his 229th appearance for the Westerners.
On the bench, hooker Ethienne Reynecke is named among the front row replacements following his return to training this week. Flying winger Matt Healy could earn his first cap for the province tomorrow evening. The 23-year-old joined the club this season from Lansdowne RFC and has made a notable impression with the Connacht Eagles.