It’s been a frantic number of weeks at the Sportsground as Connacht prepare for the challenges of the season ahead. Since their inclusion in the Heineken Cup, the ground has required upgrading and that has concluded with the College Road venue getting a long, overdue facelift with the completion of the new, fully covered ‘Clan Terrace’ in time for the visit of Welsh side Scarlets in this Saturday’s RaboDirect Pro 12 encounter (KO 3.15pm).
The Clan Terrace was set up in conjunction with the newly established supporters club, the Connacht Clan. The fan club was founded during the summer and every season ticket holder automatically becomes a member of the Clan which numbers around 3,000 and, continues to grow. Construction men worked around the clock in mostly atrocious conditions to complete the stand and kudos must be paid to them for completing such an arduous task in a short space of time.
Both Connacht and Scarlets defeated Italian opposition in round one, each picking up four points along the way and there’s not much between the teams in terms of wins for and against. In the previous four encounters it has been the home side, on the day, which has triumphed. But the Welsh side have not won against Irish opposition in their last seven attempts. That said, Connacht have failed to record back to back wins in their opening two games since 2005/2006.
While he may have missed out on the World Cup, Matthew Rees has been named club Captain for the season; he is, however, still out with an injury and ten of the squad are away on World Cup duty. Prop Iestyn Thomas Captains the side in his absence and will make his 199th appearance for the club, so they are not without experience and, throw in a mixture of youth and summer signings, you get a dangerous Scarlets team who are quietly confident of getting something out of Saturday’s game.
Connacht have no new injury worries ahead of their first home game of the season. However, knocks picked up against Treviso to Mike McCarthy, Ray Ofisa and Frank Murphy are a slight cause for concern but coach Eric Elwood is confident of having them fighting fit by the weekend. Brett Wilkinson makes a timely return to the squad but may be limited to a place among the replacements.
French referee Marius Mitera will make his competition debut at the Galway venue and with rain and strong winds expected, the already notoriously ‘open’ ground will be at test not just for him, but for both teams who can expect a tight affair with both packs looking to dominate each other from the off.
Verdict: Connacht to shade it by 2-4 points.
Connacht Team to face Scarlets:
1. Ronan Loughney, 2. Adrian Flavin, 3. Rodney Ah You, 4. Michael Swift, 5. Mike McCarthy, 6. John Muldoon, 7. Ray Ofisa, 8. George Naoupu, 9. Frank Murphy, 10. Matthew Jarvis, 11. Tiernan O’Halloran, 12. Henry Fa’afili, 13. Eoin Griffin, 14. Mark McCrea, 15. Gavin Duffy (C)
16. Ethienne Reynecke,17. Brett Wilkinson,18. Stewart Maguire,19. TJ Anderson, 20. Johnny O’Connor, 21. Paul O’Donohoe, 22. Niall O’Connor, 23. Brian Tuohy