Connacht ready for ‘must win’ visit to Rodney Parade

Andy Friend’s team are without five Ireland squad members including Quinn Roux

Andy Friend’s Connacht team head to Rodney Parade on Friday night. Photograph: Inpho

Andy Friend’s Connacht team head to Rodney Parade on Friday night. Photograph: Inpho

 

Dragons v Connacht (Kick-off 7.35pm, Rodney Parade, Newport)

Connacht head coach Andy Friend has identified Friday evening’s re-scheduled Pro14 fixture against Dragons in Rodney Parade as a “must win”.

After a recent run of home defeats, Connacht need to inject some momentum into their remaining games to continue to contest Champions Cup rugby.

“We haven’t had too many wins in the last six or seven games,” says Friend. “Winning breeds winning, and that is our intention so it sets us up for the last five games.”

Connacht are without five Ireland squad members, including Quinn Roux, who returned from Ireland camp earlier in the week with a neck injury. Also missing is captain Jarrad Butler with a calf strain - Paul Boyle takes over the captaincy in his absence. The fixture also marks milestones for two key Connacht players - Jack Carty and Finlay Bealham, who celebrate their 150th games, while Oisin Dowling will make his debut from a strong bench, having recovered from a long term back injury.

Although Dragons are well off the leaders in Conference A, sitting in fifth position, coach Dean Ryan can include five Welsh internationals, including Lion Richard Hibbard, who makes his 50th appearance for the club. Former Connacht lock Joe Maksymiw is also named in the starting XV, while the backline has players who can cause Connacht problems, including Jamie Roberts, outhalf Sam Davies, scrumhalf Rhodri Williams, and Jordan Williams, who is one of eight changes to the line-up that lost to Ospreys 20-28 in their last league game in early January.

Dragons have traditionally made it difficult for Connacht in Rodney Parade, but their break in competitive action could stand to Friend’s men. To fulfill their ambitions, Connacht need to be beating teams such as the Dragons, who have only three wins from their nine outings.

“While our home form has been disappointing, we’ve had honest reviews of what’s gone wrong and the reaction in training has been good,” says Friend. “Our away form has been a positive for us this season, so we’ll look to keep that going, albeit against tough opposition and a tough place to go in Rodney Parade.”

Dragons: J Williams; O Jenkins, J Dixon, J Roberts, A Hewitt; S Davies, R Williams (Capt); B Harris, R Hibbard, L Fairbrother; B Carter, J Maksymiw; H Taylor, B Fry, H Keddie. Replacements: E Shipp, G Bateman, C Coleman, J Davies, L Evans, L Baldwin, J Lewis, A Owen.

Connacht: J Porch; P Sullivan, T Daly, P Robb, M Healy; J Carty, C Blade; D Buckley, S Delahunt, F Bealham; N Murray, G Thornbury; P Boyle (Capt), C Oliver, A Papali’i. Replacements: J Murphy, J Duggan, J Aungier, O Dowling, E Masterson, K Marmion, S O’Brien, A Wootton.

Referee: Craig Evans (WRU).

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