Thursday 14 December 2017

Connacht continue drive for top-six spot

Ultan Dillane of Connacht. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Ultan Dillane of Connacht. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

John Fallon

The expected announcement soon of a new coach and Pat Lam's row with All Blacks coach Steve Hansen provide the backdrop to a crunch tie for Connacht against the Newport Gwent Dragons this evening.

A win, following on from the comeback victory in Cardiff, would give the champions real momentum as they bid to nail a Champions Cup spot in Lam's final months at the Sportsground.

The signing by his new club Bristol of All Blacks back-rower Steven Luatua prompted the war of words between Hansen and Lam but all that will concern the Connacht coach this evening is securing a 13th home win in a row over a Dragons side put to the sword by a depleted Munster last weekend.

Scrum-half Kieran Marmion and lock Ultan Dillane, the only two Connacht players to see Six Nations action so far this campaign and both of them came off the bench, are back from Irish camp for this one.

The other two in the Irish squad, full-back Tiernan O'Halloran and prop Finlay Bealham, featured in the 19-13 win in Cardiff.

Backs coach Conor McPhillips says their target for the remainder of the season is quite clear - aim for the top four but at least finish in the top half of the table.

But a superb comeback win in Cardiff last weekend has given them a timely boost and with a new coach soon to be named, the Pro12 champions are determined for a big finish.

"Every game we go into we want to win. And we always aim to score five points no matter what the opposition," said McPhillips.

"If we win every game it gives us a realistic chance to get the top four. We go into game believing we can win.

"Like everything, game to game, top four is still definitely an aim. But top six is a minimum," said the former winger.

Verdict: Connacht

Connacht - T O'Halloran; N Adeolokun, T Farrell, C Ronaldson, M Healy; J Carty, K Marmion; D Buckley, D Heffernan, F Bealham; U Dillane, Q Roux; S O'Brien, J Heenan, J Muldoon. Reps: T McCartney, R Loughney, JP Cooney, J Cannon, N Fox-Matamua, C Blade, S Crosbie, R Parata.

Dragons - T Prydie; A Hughes, T Morgan, A Warren, P Howard; D Jones, T Knoyle; S Hobbs, E Dee, B Harris, N Crosswell, R Landman, O Griffiths, L Evans (capt), N Cudd. Reps: D Harris, T Davies, L Fairbrother, C Hill, H Keddie, S Pretorius, A O'Brien, S Beard. Connacht v Dragons, Live, TG4, 7.35

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