Elwood puts faith in young guns to step up to the mark
THE motivations for Connacht going into tonight's meeting with Samoa are somewhat conflicting -- use the South Sea Islanders' reputation for monster hits to generate interest among supporters, and avoid injury.
Coach Eric Elwood has selected accordingly, resting his go-to performers with upcoming Magners League matches in mind. While an international scalp would be a worthy achievement for Connacht, the Samoans represent a fearsome physical threat and losing key men ahead of the home game against the Ospreys and a trip to Edinburgh would be disastrous.
So there are starts for players who have had bit-part roles this season, such as half-backs Cillian Willis and Miah Nikora and centres Eoin Griffin and Aidan Wynne. Troy Nathan fills the full-back jersey, with Blackrock's Shane Monahan and Brian Tuohy on the wings.
There is more experience in the forwards in Bernie Upton, Adrian Flavin, Mike McComish and Ezra Taylor, but Connacht's resident Samoans, flanker Ray Ofisa and centre Niva Ta'auso, are out with injury. However, Ireland have released Connacht captain John Muldoon and the Portumna man takes his place on the bench.
The visitors have some inside knowledge through outside backs Gavin Williams and Ofisa Treviranus, brother of Ray, in their touring party. Williams had several seasons with Connacht and is now on the books of Clermont, while Treviranus was part of the Samoan Sevens team that captured the World Series title earlier this year.
Captain Lolo Lui was skipper of that Sevens side and Danny Leo will be familiar to fans of the English Premiership for his eye-catching hair and muscular displays with Wasps. While the team that runs out tonight will be different to the one Ireland face on Saturday, this match still affords Irish coach Declan Kidney and his coaching team the opportunity to assess Samoa's tactics.
For Elwood, it is an opportunity to test the depth of his squad and he is enthusiastic about the challenge.
"It's a great opportunity for our younger players to show what they can do and to challenge for places in Magners League matches, but we had to mix and match the team to be competitive," he said.
This Samoan side contains many of the players that defeated Japan in Tokyo last week. That could be decisive but, whatever the outcome, both Elwood and Kidney should be more informed by the final whistle.
CONNACHT --T Nathan; S Monahan, E Griffin, A Wynne, B Tuohy; M Nikora, C Willis; R Loughney, A Flavin, B Fa'amausili; A Browne, B Upton; E McKeon, M McComish, E Taylor. Reps: D Murphy, R Sweeney, D Rogers, J Muldoon, S Conneely, C O'Loughlin, D Fanning.
SAMOA -- M Pesamino; F Otto, U Setu, J Helleur, S Sinoti; L Lui (capt) J Poluleuligaga; S Lemalu, T Paulo, L Mulipola; C Slade, D Leo; M Timoteo, F Selesele, R Muagututia. Reps: M Schwalger, N Leleimalefaga. F Levi, A Aiono, U Mai, B Vaaulu, G Williams.
REF -- J Lacey (Ireland)
Connacht v Samoa,
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