Saturday 21 October 2017

Muldoon back as Elwood rings changes for Connacht's Italian job

Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

CONNACHT skipper John Muldoon makes his long-awaited return to action as Connacht take on Italian minnows Cavalieri Prato at Stadio Lungobisenzio in the Challenge Cup today (2.0).

Muldoon hasn't played since breaking an arm against the All Blacks during the summer and features in an indigenous Connacht back row alongside Andrew Browne and Johnny O'Connor.

As expected, Connacht coach Eric Elwood makes a host of changes after naming the same starting side for the opening five Magners League matches, with prop Rob Sweeney, scrum-half Cillian Willis and winger Darragh Fanning all making their first competitive starts.

Elwood's men are bidding to transfer a decent start to the Magners League into Europe as they start their 15th campaign, the only side to compete every year in the competition.

The province were also the only team in either European competition last year to complete their pool campaign with a 100pc record and Elwood is anxious that they get their campaign off to the best possible start against the Italians.

However, a repeat performance this season looks difficult as the Westerners find themselves in the same pool as Bayonne and Harlequins but they'll be expected to see off the challenge of Prato, who are playing in Europe for the first time.

Little is known about the franchise that formed after several small clubs in the region came together. They are based in Prato, a city of about 180,000 and finished fifth in the Super 10 last season.

"It's their first game in Europe. They have had three guys called into the Italian squad this week, so you just don't know what to expect from them," said Elwood. "We've a video of one of their games -- that's all we have to go on so we will just concentrate on our own game.

"It's absolutely vital we go there in the right frame of mind. That's the key to make sure there isn't an upset. We just need to go there and do a good professional job, get the points and come home and start preparing for Bayonne."

Connacht -- T Nathan; D Fanning, N Ta'auso, M Nikora, F Carr; I Keatley, C Willis; B Wilkinson, A Flavin, R Sweeney; M Swift, B Upton; A Browne, J O'Connor, J Muldoon. Reps: D Murphy, B Fa'amausili, R Loughney, M McComish, M McCarthy, F Murphy, A Wynee, S Monahan.

Irish Independent

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