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Dragons HensahwConnacht must continue where they left off.


CONNACHT
Starting XV: 15 Robbie Henshaw, 14 Tiernan O’Halloran, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Dave McSharry, 11 Fionn Carr, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Kieran Marmion
1 Denis Buckley, 2 Jason Harris-Wright, 3 Rodney Ah You, 4 Aly Muldowney, 5 Mick Kearney, 6 John Muldoon (c), 7 Eoghan Masterson, 8 Eoin McKeon
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 Nathan White, 19 Michael Swift 20 Andrew Browne, 21 Frank Murphy, 22 Miah Nikora, 23. Darragh Leader
Unavailable/Injured: Brett Wilkinson, Sean Henry, James Rael, Craig Clarke, Jake Heenan, Willie Faloon, Conor Gilsenan, Conor Kindregran, Aaron Conneely, George Naoupu, Paul O’Donohoe, Craig Ronaldson.

Dragons
Starting XV: 15 Daniel Evans, 14 Tom Prydie, 13 Ross Wardle, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Will Harries, 10 Jason Tovey, 9 Richie Rees
1 Owen Evans, 2 Hugh Gustafson, 3 Bruce Douglas, 4 Andrew Coombs (c), 5 Rob Sidoli, 6 Lewis Evans, 7 Nic Cudd, 8 Netani Talei
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Phil Price, 18 Duncan Bell, 19 Matthew Screech, 20 Taulupe Faletau, 21 Wayne Evans, 22 Ashley Smith, 23 Matthew Pewtner

Venue: Rodney Parade, Newport
Date: Sunday, 23rd March 2014
Kick-off: 15.05
TV Broadcasts: BBC Wales (live), Delayed Highlights on TG4 (17:00)
Referee: George Clancy (IRFU, 60th competition game)
MATCH DISCUSSION THREAD ON THE FORUM


After a relatively long break in Rabo Pro12 action Connacht name an unchanged XV to take on the Dragons on Sunday. One of two changes in the 23 is the reintroduction of Ronan Loughney to the bench, where alongside Heffernan and White he makes up part of a strong replacement front-row unit. Kearney, whose improving form this season suggests that he may be starting to deliver on his long awaited promise, is retained at second row beside Aly Muldowney. Connacht fans were beginning to wonder if we perhaps had another Ezra Taylor on our hands when Muldowney, who arrived to much fanfare, quickly dropped down the ranks in Connacht. It is good to see him also beginning to deliver.
The unchanged back-row suggests that Lam is starting to see Masterson and McKeon as viable options given that they are keeping the more experienced Andrew Browne on the bench. Muldoon captains the side again in the absence of Clarke.

Marmion and Parks are calling the shots in the half-backs, and Connacht fans will be hoping that they will have the opportunity and inclination to get the ball to the rest of the back line. This back line is amongst the strongest that Connacht can field, with a fit McSharry and Griffin pairing, and Henshaw coming into the line from full-back. On the wings we have a good choice among Healy, O'Halloran, Carr and Poolman, with O'Halloran and Carr getting the nod this week.
Notable though is that neither Healy nor Poolman are on the bench or listed among the unavailable, and instead Leader is preferred on the bench. Leader covers a wider range of positions than Healy but the omission of the more experienced Poolman is not so easily explained. Gavin Cummiskey of the Irish Times reports today that Poolman has ongoing hamstring problems, though he is absent from the official Connacht list.

The Dragons ring the changes in their side after a mauling away against Ulster, where the Men of Gwent managed only 8 points in response to an Ulster onslaught which saw them build up to 38 points by the time the full-time whistle was sounded. In the Dragons' backline only Richie Rees has retained his place at scrum-half. A similar massacre is in evidence up front as the fall of the axe only spares the two starting props and openside flanker Nic Cudd.
The Newport-Gwent Dragons welcome back Andrew Coombs into their enginer room, and start Sidoli alongside him, a much more capable pairing that the one they replaced. Connacht fans will be watching the bench with trepidation also as they await the introduction of British and Irish Lion Taulupe Faletau. Hopefully with Muldoon leading the charge Connacht's two rookie backrow fowards, Masterson and McKeon, will be able to view this as a challenge rather to rise to, rather than a threat to contain.

With Connacht's recent victories having come during the Six Nations Championship, this match provides a real opportunity for them to assert that they can produce similar results during the regular season. A victory will allow Connacht to pull ahead of Dragons and Edinburgh and slip into seventh position in the league, a position many a Connacht fan would have jumped at given our position at Christmas. Of course it would place Connacht in a position to fight for a 6th place finish, which is still extremely unlikely but which would also at least focus the minds of the players as we come to the end of the first season of the Lam era. More importantly though a victory keeps Connacht in the mindset of not accepting less than that, which is something we need to start next season with.
Connacht can win, especially if our scrum continues to be as dominant as it has recently been. There is no reason to think that it will not be, and if George Clancy is confident enough in his decisions then Connacht can use that as a base to build from. However given our injury ravaged back-row the place where Connacht could lose this match is at the breakdown, where discipline will be key. Start giving away penalties there and we may see Dragons slide increasingly out of touch.

The Connacht Clan have arranged with The Dáil Bar to show the match LIVE from 3pm.

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