Elwood plays strong hand for Dragons tie
CONNACHT'S troubles have been well documented, ranging from sparse squad resources and injuries the province can ill afford to their morale-sapping one-year contracts and ongoing battle for a viable future.
However, coach Eric Elwood has been upbeat and the former Connacht and Ireland out-half has managed to put together a decent side for this afternoon's Magners League opener against the Dragons at the Sports Ground (5.30).
Captain John Muldoon, openside Johnny O'Connor and prop Robbie Morris are notable absentees, but Elwood has managed to select a side with experience and proven partnerships.
Ian Keatley and Frank Murphy are an established pairing at half-back, while Niva Ta'auso and Keith Matthews have a good working relationship in midfield. The back three of Gavin Duffy, Troy Nathan and Fionn Carr also know what they're about.
Up front, Elwood has a forward unit packed with grunt and this is a huge game for tight-head Jamie Hagan, in a season full of them. The only newcomer in the starting line-up is George Naoupu's No 8 replacement, Ezra Taylor.
The Dragons side have been improving under Paul Turner and have some accomplished operators in second-row captain Luke Charteris and flanker Robin Sowden-Taylor.
Hopefully, there will be a big Saturday evening turn-out to roar them on. Connacht, and Irish rugby, could use a strong start to the season out west.
CONNACHT -- G Duffy; T Nathan, N Ta'auso, K Matthews, F Carr; I Keatley, F Murphy (capt); B Wilkinson, S Cronin, J Hagan; M Swift, B Upton; M McCarthy, R Ofisa, E Taylor. Reps: A Flavin, R Loughney, R Sweeney, D Nolan, M McComish, C Willis, M Nikora, T O'Halloran.
DRAGONS -- J Tovey; W Harries, R Gomer-Davies, T Riley, A Brew; M Jones, D Lee; H Gustafson, S Jones, B Castle; L Charteris (capt), S Morgan; J Bearman, R Sowden-Taylor, H Ellis. Reps: L Burns, P Palmer, A Mckenzie, R Sidoli, D Lydiate, G Thomas, N Griffiths, D Bishop.
Ref -- J Jones (Wales).
Connacht v The Dragons,
Live, TG4, 5.30