Friday 23 June 2017

Connacht can banish away-day demons

Hugh Farrelly

NOW for the next step. After a hugely encouraging bonus-point victory over the Dragons in Galway last weekend, Connacht take on the Scarlets at Parc y Scarlets this afternoon (3.0), while simultaneously battling their own away-day demons.

The statistics make for daunting reading. Connacht have not won in Llanelli since 2004 and in the six years since, have just one win away to Welsh opposition, when they downed the Dragons 16-11 in 2004.

However, Eric Elwood's side will be looking to exploit the doubts in the Scarlets dressing-room following their surprise defeat in Treviso last weekend, while acknowledging the threat of the expected backlash.

Much has been made of Connacht's sparse resources, but, even with captain John Muldoon, flanker Johnny O'Connor and prop Robbie Morris unavailable, there is a settled look to their side, with proven combinations and no little muscle.

Losing No 8 Ezra Taylor to a knee injury has not helped, but Mike McComish, as he showed last season, is a capable back-row and that is the only change to the side that was so impressive in the 40-17 win over the Dragons.

The Scarlets have brought back some heavy-hitters in the shape of out-half Stephen Jones, hooker and captain Matthew Rees and Scotland winger Sean Lamont and have a powerful centre partnership in Jon Davies and Regan King. The clash of teenage sensation George North and Fionn Carr should be worth watching, while Ireland international Sean Cronin will relish the chance of going up against Lions Test hooker Rees.

With Jones calling the shots at 10, there is an expectation of a home victory, but today would be a good day for Connacht to start changing their travel habits.

Verdict: Connacht

SCARLETS -- A Fenby; G North, R King, J Davies, S Lamont;

S Jones, M Roberts; P John, M Rees (capt), R Thomas; L Reed, J Fa'amatuainu; J Turnbull, J Edwards, R McCusker. Reps:

K Owens, I Thomas, P Edwards, D Day, N Cudd, T Knoyle,

G Maule, R Priestland.

CONNACHT -- G Duffy; T Nathan, K Matthews, N Ta'auso, F Carr; I Keatley, F Murphy (capt); B Wilkinson, S Cronin, J Hagan; M Swift, B Upton; M McCarthy, R Ofisa, M McComish. Reps: A Flavin, R Loughney, R Sweeney,

D Nolan, S Conneely, C Willis, M Nikora, T O'Halloran

REF -- N Paterson (Scotland)

Irish Independent

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