There are few surprises in Pat Lam’s Connacht squad for this evening’s Guinness Pro 12 opener at the Galway Sportsground (7.30pm).
With a settled squad and no big-name signing, there are just two new caps in the staring line-up to face the Newport Gwent Dragons with Academy and New Zealand-born Rory Parata named in the centre, and Nepia Fox-Matamua in the backrow..
Lam always planned to be without centre Robbie Henshaw on Ireland World Cup duty, but he had not bargained for new signing Api Pewhairangi, sidelined for up to four months, Dave McSharry, Darragh Leader and Niyi Adeolokun to be missing also.
As a result, he has promoted Academy centre Rory Parata to partner Bundee Aki in midfield.
Also missing Nathan White in Joe Schmidt’s squad, Lam will be delighted scrum-half Kieran Marmion is back to renew his halfback partnership with Jack Carty. Lam is confident his young squad has matured as he enters his third year at the Sportsground, and he is counting on a solid pre-season to ensure Connacht make the best possible start in their bid for a top-six finish and Champions Cup qualification.
Last season Connacht achieved more wins than previous seasons, but failed to qualify for Champions Cup rugby. A couple of defeats proved costly in games they should have put away, and Lam knows the margins will be tight again.
They boast a strong record against the visiting Dragons, who have made some astute signings, non more so than S African scrum-half Sarel Pretorius.
T O’Halloran, D Poolman, R Parata, B Aki, M Healy, J Carty, K Marmion, D Buckley, T McCartney, R Ah You, Q Roux, A Browne, J Muldoon (captain), N Fox-Matamua, E Masterson. Replacements
: D Heffernan, JP Cooney, F Bealham, B Marshall, E McKeon, J Cooney, C Ronaldson, F Carr
C Meyer, T Prydie, R Wardle, A Warren, N Scott, J Tovey, S Pretorius; B Stankovich, T Rhys Thomas (cpt), S Knight, C Hill, R Landman, N Crosswell, N Cudd, E Jackson. .
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