Connacht, having apparently lost the ability to cross the try-line, must convert their possession into points if they are to gain the win they need today.
Starting XV: 15 Robbie Henshaw, 14 Danie Poolman, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Dave McSharry, 11 Fetu’u Vainikolo, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Kieran Marmion
1 Denis Buckley, 2 Jason Harris-Wright, 3 Nathan White (C), 4 Michael Swift, 5 Mike McCarthy, 6 Andrew Browne, 7 Eoin McKeon, 8 George Naoupu
Replacements: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 17 Brett Wilkinson, 18 Ronan Loughney, 19 Mick Kearney, 20 Eoghan Grace, 21 Paul O’Donohoe, 22 Matthew Jarvis, 23 Tiernan O’Halloran
Starting XV: 15 Hallam Amos, 14 Tom Prydie, 13 Adam Hughes, 12 Andy Tuilagi, 11 Tonderai Chavhanga, 10 Lewis Robling, 9 Wayne Evans
1 Phil Price, 2 Sam Parry, 3 Dan Way, 4 Andrew Coombs, 5 Rob Sidoli, 6 Lewis Evans (C), 7 Nic Cudd, 8 Toby Faletau
Replacements: 16 Hugh Gustafson, 17 Owen Evans, 18 Nathan Buck, 19 Adam Jones, 20 Tom Brown, 21 Jonathan Evans, 22 Ashley Smith, 23 Jack Dixon
Today's match against the Newport Gwent Dragons, is an opportunity for Connacht to overcome a couple of difficult defeats at the hands of their Provincial rivals over the Christmas and New Year period. Those matches highlighted a worrying aspect of Connacht's game, an inability to get across the line. Both matches were marked by long periods of Connacht dominance and possession which failed to yield the required points, despite numerous opportunities, and this lack of a cutting edge ultimately led to both oppositions being allowed not only to stay in the games but to take the lead and hold it.
The Connacht players today need to push themselves to look for the coup de grâce when they are inside the Dragons' 22, constantly sniping and to stress the opposition defense into making a mistake, and to then to punish them for it. This is epitomised by the young scrum-half in green, Kieran Marmion, whose eye for a gap and his willingness to take it should be an example, not just to the back but also to our forward fringe attackers. They must not be content with resetting the maul, and should be arcing for the line at every opportunity.
A further worrying trend in the Connacht attack is for Dan Parks to lose patience with his backline and look for a long skip pass. This was evident in the match against Leinster, where a promising overlap was decimated by a two-man skip pass. It solved the defensive problem for Leinster by allowing them to drift out to the wing without any fear of having to commit to midfield tackles. Parks must cede control of the match to his fellow players in such circumstances and trust that they are also aware of the line. Connacht must commit defenders at every stage of an attack.
Both sides are fielding strong sides, Dragons missing Lydiate missing due to an ankle injury and Connacht of course missing John Muldoon and JOC in the back row. Connacht however still have some good cover there and praise in that regard must go to the management teams of the B&I cup and the Academy as McKeown, Browne and Grace are all in the squad today. The danger in the Dragons squad comes mainly from their pacey winger Chavhanga, and their star center Andy Tuilagi.
For Connacht we will again be hoping for Fets' magic feet to break the white line, but we should also be looking to the rest of the backline to back themselves and put faith in their own abilities. Connacht need to be ruthless with their opportunities whether they are set-pieces, penalties or open play, and they need concentration in defense. Otherwise we will be looking at another death by a thousand cuts.