Friday 2nd March, 19.30 (Not televised)
It’s been a great two weeks for Connacht and their supporters with the signings of Nathan White and Dan Parks being announced for next season, as well as the winless run in the PRO12 ending with a well-deserved 26-13 win over Edinburgh last Friday. The Connacht squad must be buzzing at the moment and rightfully so. Since ending their torrid 14-game losing streak with that famous 9-8 win over Harlequins in January, the outlook at the province has become increasingly positive. Hopefully that will continue at Parc y Scarlets tomorrow night.
Eric Elwood has had to make several changes to last weekend’s victorious team. Brett Wilkinson and Mike McCarthy are on Ireland duty this week so miss out. That means a first start for Munster’s on-loan tighthead Peter Borlase, with Ronan Loughney moving over to loosehead. 20-year-old Dave Heffernan wins his first cap at blindside while fellow Connacht Academy member Mick Kearney starts in the second-row.
There’s youth in the backline too where Dave McSharry and Eoin Griffin renew the midfield partnership that showed such promise earlier in the season. Niall O’Connor misses out through injury, meaning a rare start for Miah Nikora at flyhalf. The bench features several other youngsters with Academy prop Denis Buckley joined by Eoghan Grace, Dave Moore, Matt Jarvis and Kyle Tonetti.
Meanwhile, the Scarlets have been able to bolster their team with four released Wales squad players in Liam Williams on the right wing, Rhodri Jones at loosehead as well as Aaron Shingler and the brilliantly-named Lou Reed in the second-row. Worryingly, the Scarlets are aiming for their seventh consecutive home league win. Last weekend’s 34-20 win over Treviso ensure that the Welsh region are still in the play-off race.
Having written off Connacht last weekend this is even harder to call, but the Scarlets have more to play for tomorrow night. Verdict: Scarlets by 3.
Scarlets: 15 Dan Newton, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Gareth Maule (capt.), 12 Adam Warren, 11 Andy Fenby, 10 Stephen Jones, 9 Liam Davies, 8 Kieran Murphy. 7 Johnathan Edwards, 6 Josh Turnbull, 5 Aaron Shingler, 4 Lou Reed, 3 Deacon Manu, 2 Emyr Phillips, 1 Rhodri Jones.
Subs: 16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Phil John, 18 Peter Edwards, 19 Dominic Day, 20 Mat Gilbert, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Nick Reynolds, 23 Viliame Iongi.
Connacht: 15 Gavin Duffy (capt.), 14 Fetu’u Vainikolo, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Dave McSharry, 11 Tiernan O’Halloran, 10 Miah Nikora, 9 Frank Murphy, 8 George Naoupu, 7 Ray Ofisa, 6 Dave Heffernan, 5 Mick Kearney, 4 Michael Swift, 3 Peter Borlase, 2 Adrian Flavin, 1 Ronan Loughney.
Subs: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 Stewart Maguire, 19 John Muldoon, 20 Eoghan Grace, 21 Dave Moore, 22 Matthew Jarvis, 23 Kyle Tonetti.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy).
Photo courtesy: Pierre-Selim.