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Thursday 8 December 2016

Connacht can weather storm to end winless streak

Scarlets v Connacht, Live, TG4, 7.35

Published 24/09/2016 | 02:30

Connacht head coach Pat Lam: “With more guys coming back from injury, it’s pleasing to be able to select a bit more experience in our side.” Picture: Sportsfile
Connacht head coach Pat Lam: “With more guys coming back from injury, it’s pleasing to be able to select a bit more experience in our side.” Picture: Sportsfile

Not yet October and already this is a basement battle which few would have predicted between the champions and one of the league's supposedly dark horses.

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Instead, the champions are more like chumps, winless and pointless, while the Scarlets are running lame, also pointless.

The weather saved Connacht blushes in Zebre last weekend and the storm clouds, metaphorically and literally, follow to West Wales this weekend as Pat Lam's men seek a morale-boosting win that may, finally, turn process into points.

Excuses are running thin: the return of five internationals to the starting XV - Jake Heenan is back from injury too into a back-row which, intriguingly, includes Ultan Dillane at blindside - has removed any lingering margin for error.

Famous five

Matt Healy, Kieran Marmion, Finlay Bealham, Quinn Roux and Dillane are the famous five seeking to kick-start the dormant campaign, and one hopes that the familiar back three will get the weather they're hoping for.

"With more guys coming back from injury, it's pleasing to be able to select a bit more experience in our side," said coach Lam.

"Quinn and Jake returning is a boost and it helps drive more competition within the squad.

"Although we have never won at Parc y Scarlets before, we are really excited by the challenge to create a small bit of history.

"While both teams are obviously determined to get points on the table, our focus remains on the quality of our performance."

Like Connacht, Scarlets have been competitive but out-gunned; they make just one change from defeat in Belfast last week.

Aaron Shingler returns to the starting line-up at blindside flanker, with Lewis Rawlins moving to the bench.

"Given where both sides are heading into this game, with both sides in the top six last season and Connacht of course going on to win the championship, we want to repeat the dose and be there towards the end of the season," said coach Wayne Pivac.

"It'll be a great contest; you wouldn't want to be the team that comes off second! This really is a big game for us.

"It's good to be back at home here at the Parc and the boys are very much looking forward to it.

"Hopefully there'll be a boisterous crowd here to lift the team and get a decent performance out of it."

Scarlets have failed to register a single league point from any of their last four fixtures.

They are also trying to avoid a four-game losing streak at home for the first time since abandoning the storied old Stradey Park in 2008.

This fixture predominantly favours the home side; indeed Scarlets have won their last 11 home games against the Westerners, at three different venues, with Connacht's last success in West Wales coming 12 years ago.

The visitors' strongest line-up to date can see them end their bad run.

Verdict: Connacht

Scarlets - A Thomas; L Williams, J Davies, H Parkes, S Evans; R Patchell, G Davies; W Jones, K Owens capt, W Kruger, J Ball, D Bulbring, A Shingler, J Davies, J Barclay.

Reps: R Elias, L Garrett, P Edwards, L Rawlins, M Allen, A Davies, S Williams, W Boyde

Connacht - T O'Halloran; N Adeolokun, B Aki, E Griffin, M Healy; J Carty, K Marmion; D Buckley, T McCartney, F Bealham, Q Roux, A Browne, U Dillane, J Heenan, J Muldoon capt. Reps: D Heffernan, R Loughney, JP Cooney, L Stevenson, E McKeon, C Blade, S O'Leary, C Kelleher.

Ref - G Clancy (IRFU).

Irish Independent

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