Matt Cassidy is here to discuss the five key battles that could determine the outcome of Connacht’s opener against Newport Gwent Dragons.
After a summer of having to content ourselves with a wondrous World Cup, a glorious GAA championship and a magnificent Rory McIlroy dominating the golfing world, the waiting is finally over! Rugby is back!
The dawn of the new term signals the start of a second term for Pat Lam. An off-season of splurging, the likes of which the Westerners have never seen, has led to one thing that Sportsground crowds have never had; expectation!
Nothing less than qualification for the Rugby Champions Cup will suffice and on Saturday afternoon they kick off their quest against the men of Gwent, the Dragons.
Five Key Battles
1.Nathan White v Boris Stankovich
The scrum battle does not decide a game of rugby but it is likely if your fatties are on top in this department, you will be celebrating at the final whistle. White packs down at tighthead for Pat Lam’s men and the Kiwi will be hoping he can get the better of the gnarly, Stankovich.
The Dragons’ prop was signed from the Leicester Tigers in the summer, in the hope that he will add some much needed bite to the Rodney Parade outfit’s lightweight pack. Stankovich is a strong scrummager, (isn’t every prop that has played at Welford Road?) and he will look to attack White at every opportunity especially on Connacht’s feed.
The Westerners’ number three may not be the greatest front rower out there but he is a canny operator and will make sure that the home side will have at least parity at this set piece.
Prop Winner: Draw
2.Quinn Roux v Andrew Coombs
It is fair to say that the young South African did not enjoy his two year stint in Dublin which was blighted by injury and poor form. He has been handed a second chance to prove that he is not another failed special project player and he must start repaying that faith and money invested in him on Saturday.
Roux will be facing off against Welsh international, Andrew Coombs. The Dragons’ second row burst onto the scene when Warren Gatland plucked him from obscurity to give him a debut cap against Ireland in the Six Nations in 2013.
Coombs is a hard, tough, uncompromising lock who will look to disrupt Connacht’s lineout whilst safely securing possession on his team’s own throw. He will be one of the Dragons go to ball carriers and will want to soften up the Irish province’s inside defence. Roux will need to show something that no one in Ireland has seen him do on a rugby field thus far if he wishes to contain Coombs.
Lock Winner: Andrew Coombs
3.Eoin McKeon v Andy Powell
Eoin McKeon has been going about his business quietly and steadily at the Sportsground for the few last seasons. Notwithstanding his use as an option for the lineout, the primary objective for him will be making sure that he provides clean controlled ball at the back of the scrum for his halfback, Ian Porter, whilst making strong carriers to get his team over the gain line.
McKeon’s work rate around the pitch will be crucial as he looks to stop the unpredictable, Andy Powell. Dragons’ Number Eight, Powell is one of the league’s enigmas. On a good day he can run through any defence, making significant hard yards for his team. But if he is having an off game, he can be rubbish!
Powell returns to union after dabbling in rugby league with the Wigan Warriors and it can only to be expected that he will not be up to scratch with union’s playing technicalities just yet.
Number Eight Winner: Eoin McKeon
4.Jack Carty v Jason Tovey
Perhaps the most crucial contest is between the two outhalfs. Lam has decided to back the 22-year-old fly half ahead of Miah Nikora. The Bucaneers man will have to drive his pack forward and slot over the points when he gets the chance. His punting will have to be on the mark as the Dragons possess an all international back three; Lee Byrne, Tom Prydie and Aled Brew. If Carty kicks poorly these men will look to counterattack and punish Connacht.
Tovey will have the hand at the wheel for the Dragons as they look to pick up their first victory in Galway since 2004. The Newport man is a dependable fly half who does the basics well. Connacht will have to watch their discipline as Tovey is a consistent goal kicker (the highest points scorer in the region’s history). Tovey will want to get the ball out wide where it is hoped that the Dragons’ backs can do damage against a relatively inexperienced Connacht backline.
Flyhalf Winner: Jason Tovey
5.The Centre Battle
There is a huge onus on Dave McSharry as he looks to coax and cajole a backline that has had not much exposure to this level of rugby. His partner in crime for the last few seasons, Eoin Griffin has said slán to Galway and Darragh Leader will occupy the number 13 jersey. Along with being a creative influence in midfield, McSharry will be key in marshalling the outside defence that is full of new personnel.
The good news for McSharry and Leader is that they are up against pups, Jack Dixon and Tyler Morgan, who are 19 and 18 years old respectively. Despite being so youthful, much is expected of the Dragons’ pair who will run fast and tackle hard in an attempt to interrupt Connacht’s running game.
Centre Battle Winner: Connacht
Prediction: It is going to be close on Saturday night but this writer believes the feel good factor around Connacht rugby at the moment will give the Westerners the boost they need to get that all important opening victory.
Matt Cassidy, Pundit Arena.
Read More About: andrew coombs, andy powell, boris stankovich, connacht rugby, darragh leader, dave mcsharry, eoin mckeon, jack dixon, miah nikora, nathan white, newpor gwent dragons, pro12, quinn roux, Top Story, tyler morgan