Sunday 11 December 2016

Warriors on mission to end Galway hoodoo

Published 03/09/2016 | 02:30

Nepia Fox-Matamua is back at openside in a strong-looking back-row. Photo: Sportsfile
Nepia Fox-Matamua is back at openside in a strong-looking back-row. Photo: Sportsfile

Pat Lam floated the notion that Connacht's success means there would be no soft touches for the champions this season and they are proved right in round one this afternoon.

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The days of teams resting players for the Sportsground appear to be over if Gregor Townsend's team selection is anything to go by as the incoming Scotland coach arrives with his strongest possible team for this opener.

It is understandable for the Warriors boss whose most recent rugby memories are of successive defeats in Galway as their title defence ran aground by the Atlantic last May.

The meeting of the last two winners of this competition is the marquee fixture of the opening weekend and the Sky cameras have made their way west to capture the moment.

When these sides meet, it is usually compelling. Lam hands a debut to his highly-rated recruit from Leinster Cian Kelleher, while Eoin Griffin partners Bundee Aki in midfield.

Up front, former Roscommon minor Danny Qualter comes into the second-row alongside Ultan Dillane who is looking to consolidate the progress he made last year.

After a freak injury robbed him of his place in the title win, Jack Carty has an opportunity to steal a march on Manitz Boshoff, while Kieran Marmion is kept in reserve as Caolan Blade starts at scrum-half.

Stacked

Nepia Fox-Matamua is back at openside in a strong-looking back-row alongside Eoin McKeon and John Muldoon. They'll need all of their power and wits against a stacked Glasgow side.

Townsend has named an all-international pack who will look to dominate at set-piece and cause trouble at ruck time, while Italian winger Leonardo Sarto makes his debut in an impressive backline.

The all-singing, all-dancing Leone Nakarawa is gone, yet they still possess enough game-breakers to cause anyone problems.

Lam says that he won't be changing his template this season, but wants even better execution from his players and you can be sure they won't be inviting Stuart Hogg into the game with loose kicks.

Connacht's rivals have had a summer to work the champions out through analysis and Glasgow will look to put them on the back foot. With the forecast for poor weather, the tight exchanges will be fierce.

The hosts have plenty of strings to their bow and will take some stopping. Tom McCartney was the best hooker in the competition last season, while Denis Buckley makes a welcome return.

Just who will take on Aly Muldowney's job linking the play in the system will be an interesting side-note, as will the defensive organisation and leadership of which Robbie Henshaw and AJ MacGinty played such an important role.

Perhaps Connacht have more to work out than their visitors, but they also have momentum from last season.

Can Glasgow lose for a third successive match in Galway? The bookies can't call it and with Nigel Owens in charge we are set for a trademark tight finish.

Having named their strongest team, the Scots might just edge it.

Verdict: Glasgow Warriors

Connacht - C Kelleher; N Adeolokun, E Griffin, B Aki, M Healy; J Carty, C Blade; D Buckley, T McCartney, F Bealham; U Dillane, D Qualter; E McKeon, N Fox-Matamua, J Muldoon (capt). Reps: D Heffernan, R Loughney, JP Cooney, L Stevenson, J Connolly, K Marmion, S O'Leary, P Robb.

Glasgow Warriors - S Hogg; L Sarto, A Dunbar, S Johnson, T Seymour; P Horne, H Pyrgos; G Reid, P MacArthy, Z Fagerson; T Swinson, J Gray (capt); R Harley, S Favaro, R Wilson. Reps: C Flynn, R Grant, S Puafisi, T Uanivi, L Wynne, A Price, R Clegg, S Lamont.

Ref - N Owens (Wales)

Connacht v Glasgow Warriors, Live, Sky Sports 1, 5.15

Irish Independent

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