Saturday 22 July 2017

Elwood's men primed to unleash their frustrations in Dragons' den

Elwood: Unhappy with timing of game.
Elwood: Unhappy with timing of game.

Hugh Farrelly

PREDICTING a Connacht win on the road is always a perilous exercise, but tonight's Magners League assignment against the Dragons in Rodney Parade (7.35) has the makings of a tale of the unexpected.

There is a tangible sense of grievance for a start, borne out of Eric Elwood's men, once again, being lumped with a five-day turnaround and trip to Wales.

In September, they were handed a Thursday fixture away to Cardiff Blues, five days after battling to a 15-15 draw with Ulster in Galway.

Connacht's squad resources are stretched at the best of times and they put up a game performance before predictably running out of steam against the Blues.

After a bright opening, that defeat marked a downturn in Connacht's season, the first in a run of seven league losses.

Combined with three additional losses in the Challenge Cup, it has been a tough run of results for Connacht, with the October European win over Bayonne and an excellent victory of Samoa the only shafts of light in a gloomy period.

The blueprint securing the province's future for the next three years did provide a lift but was quickly offset by the news that three key players -- Sean Cronin, Ian Keatley and Fionn Carr -- would be on their way out of the Sportsground at the end of the season.

Elwood's frustration is tangible and understandable but the former Ireland out-half is adamant that his men will do their utmost to turn things around this evening.

"We have already gone to Wales for a Thursday night match. That time they said it was because of the Ryder Cup, now we are told it is because of television. We have tried to have the game switched but that has not been possible so now we will just get on with, go over there and give it everything," said Elwood, who was unhappy with last weekend's 30-8 defeat to Leinster at the RDS.

"We were disappointed with the Leinster match. We did a lot of good things in the first 20 minutes but we didn't take our chances and that's been the story with us all season," he said.

There is a definite sense that Connacht are ready to release their frustrations with enough force to emulate their away victory in Glasgow last September.

Keatley, Carr and Cronin are all on board, with Keatley slotting in at full-back in Gavin Duffy's absence and Miah Nikora continuing at out-half, and they are facing an eminently beatable Dragons outfit.

The Newport-Gwent outfit are Connacht's equivalent in Welsh rugby, lagging behind bigger regions Cardiff Blues and the Ospreys, and lie one place ahead of the Irish province -- albeit with a game in hand.

Their only victory in their last six outings in all competitions was a 20-6 defeat of league leaders Munster on November 26, but they have won their last seven home meetings with Irish sides.

With the first-choice front-row of Brett Wilkinson, Cronin and Jamie Hagan in tow, Connacht have the capacity to establish front-foot superiority and build from there, and the Dragons do not possess the most fearsome team-sheet.

Connacht opened their season with an excellent 40-17 win over the Dragons at the Sportsground and can kick off the second half of the season with a similar result.

Verdict: Connacht

DRAGONS -- W Harries; A Hughes, T Riley, A Smith, A Brew; J Tovey, J Evans; H Gustafson, T Willis (capt), B Castle; A Jones, R Sidoli; L Evans, G Thomas, T Faletau. Reps: S Jones, P Palmer, P Price, L Charteris, A Coombs, M Jones, M Petri, P Leach.

CONNACHT -- I Keatley; T Nathan, E Griffin, K Matthews, F Carr; M Nikora, C Willis; B Wilkinson, S Cronin, J Hagan; M Swift, M McCarthy; A Browne, J O'Connor, E McKeon. Reps: A Flavin, R Ah You, D Rogers, B Upton, M McComish, F Murphy, N Ta'auso, B Tuohy.

REF -- A Lewis (Ireland)

Dragons v Connacht,

Live, RTE 2, 7.35

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