Neither side enjoyed any seasonal cheer — Connacht losing to interprovincial rivals Munster and Leinster while the Dragons lost their Christmas derbies to Cardiff and Ospreys. And, with just two points separating 11th placed Dragons from Connacht, both sides are treating this as a cup final outing.
“We have to be honest,” said Connacht’s Eric Elwood. “Everybody knows how important this fixture is — the players and the management. What we have done all week is to focus on ourselves to ensure we get everything right.
“It is a home match for us and as a result the pressure is on us to perform.”
Victories have usually gone to the home side with Connacht losing the November fixture at Rodney Parade by 14-3 after two first-half sinbinnings. That was the Dragons’ first win in seven outings, while their last and only win in Galway was in 2004.
One of Connacht’s biggest scoring threat, Fetu’u Vainikolo, returns from injury to take his place on the left wing in the only change to the backline, while Danie Poolman retains the right wing position.
Up front Mike McCarthy returns to the second row alongside Michael Swift after missing last week’s fixture, with George Naoupu moving back to his favoured number eight position. With both openside flankers, Johnny O’Connor and Willie Faloon injured, youngster Eoin McKeon moves into the seven shirt, with Andrew Browne continuing on the blindside in the continuing absence of John Muldoon.
The Dragons have made three changes to their backline with South African speed merchant Tonderai Chavhanga and centre Adam Hughes returning to action, with Wayne Evans also named at scrumhalf.
CONNACHT: R Henshaw, D Poolman, E Griffin, D McSharry, F Vainikolo, D Parks, K Marmion, D Buckley, J Harris-Wright, N White (cpt), M Swift, M McCarthy, A Browne, E McKeon, G Naoupu. Replacements: E Reynecke, B Wilkinson, R Loughney,M Kearney, E Grace, P O’Donohoe, M Jarvis, T O’Halloran.
DRAGONS: H Amos, T Prydie, A Hughes, A Tuilagi, T Chavhanga, L Robling, W Evans, P Price, S Parry, D Way, A Coombs, R Sidoli, L Evans (cpt), N Cudd, T Faletau.
Replacements: H Gustafson, O Evans, N Buck, A Jones, T Browne, J Evans, A Smith, J Dixon.