Connacht have the game to keep rising Dragons down for now

Andy Friend’s side looking to win a third home game in a row since 2019

Ben O’Donnell makes his first start of the season for Connacht in the home game against the Dragons at the Sportsground on Saturday. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Connacht v Dragons, Sportsground, Saturday , 5.15pm – Live on: TG4, S4C, Premier Sports 2

After welcoming back their supporters to the Sportsground last weekend in the finest of styles with that handsome win over the Bulls, Connacht seek three home league wins in a row for the first time since October 2019.

Andy Friend makes three changes, giving Ben O’Donnell his first appearance of the season in an otherwise unchanged backline, with the halfbacks of Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty, as well as the midfield pair of Tom Daly and Tom Farrell all starting for the third game running.

Up front, Ballinrobe man Matthew Burke comes into the frontrow and Paul Boyle at number eight in an otherwise unchanged pack, with locks Oisín Dowling and Ultan Dillane, who has hit the ground running with a couple of superb performances, also starting together for the third week in a row.

The Dragons have been very competitive in two narrow home defeats by the Ospreys and Leinster, when pushing the latter in losing by a single point, and Dean Ryan has responded by making six changes.


Unsurprisingly, Wales scrumhalf Rhodri Williams is handed a starting spot after impressing off the bench in those two games, while Greg Bateman, former Connacht lock Joe Maksymiw, Harrison Keddie, Taine Basham and Jordan Williams all come into the starting XV.

They also welcome back Argentine scrumhalf Gonzalo Bertranou to the bench following his Rugby Championship exploits.

Connacht have a 21-11 head-to-head record against the Dragons, winning the last three, while the Welsh side’s only previous victory at The Sportsground was 32-14 on their inaugural visit in May 2004.

Yet the Dragons’ performances to date suggest they may be defensively more obdurate and last the pace better than the Bulls albeit, as Friend noted, last week’s win should imbue his players with confidence that they’re heading in the right direction, albeit they’ll need to scale those emotional heights and accuracy again here.

CONNACHT: Tiernan O'Halloran; Ben O'Donnell, Tom Farrell, Tom Daly, Mack Hansen; Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; Matthew Burke, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham; Oisín Dowling, Ultan Dillane; Cian Prendergast, Jarrad Butler (capt), Paul Boyle.

Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Jordan Duggan, Jack Aungier, Leva Fifita, Conor Oliver, Caolin Blade, Conor Fitzgerald, Sammy Arnold.

DRAGONS: Jordan Williams; Jonah Holmes, Jack Dixon, Aneurin Owen, Jordan Olowofela; Sam Davies, Rhodri Williams; Greg Bateman, Elliot Dee, Mesake Doge; Will Rowlands, Joe Maksymiw; Harrison Keddie (capt), Taine Basham, Aaron Wainwright.

Replacements: Taylor Davies, Aki Seiuli, Chris Coleman, Joe Davies, Ollie Griffiths, Gonzalo Bertranou, Josh Lewis, Adam Warren.

Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (SARU).

Forecast: Connacht to win.

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times