By Tadhg Peavoy
Newport Gwent Dragons v Connacht, Rodney Parade, Sunday, 3.05pm
Connacht’s hot streak has given them three Pro12 wins on the trot, and a fourth win in Wales this weekend would equal their best run of form in the competition since 2002/03.
In addition, if they win, they could potentially rise to seventh in the table, closing in on Scarlets in the top half.
The incentives for Connacht this weekend are huge, and I expect a very committed and passionate performance as they attempt to keep their form ticking over.
The Westerners form in this clash is also very good, with four wins from the last five attempts against Dragons, giving further hope that this could be a victorious weekend for Pat Lam’s side.
The likelihood is that it’s going to be a very tight battle, with a score, or two, pushing it in favour of either side.
Connacht are settled, with no changes made to the team that beat Treviso.
Denis Buckley, Jason Harris-Wright and Rodney Ah You form a front row that has had a very solid season thus far, with Mick Kearney the lynchpin in the second row. John Muldoon supplies the experience in the back row at six, and Eoin McKeon the explosiveness at eight.
Promising scrum-half Kieran Marmion partners veteran Dan Parks at halfback with Fionn Carr, Tiernan O’Halloran and Robbie Henshaw full of danger in the back three.
The pick of Dragons’ pack are Andrew Coombs in the second row alongside Robert Sidoli. In the back row Netani Talei is a tough opponent at eight. But on a whole, Connacht’s pack looks well able to control Dragons’ eight in the set piece and the loose, giving a platform which their backs can use with solidity.
Jason Tovey is dangerous for Dragons at ten, and Connacht’s Eoghan Masterson will want to get up into his face early and prevent him getting up a head of steam. Inside at nine, Richie Rees is the most experienced man in that division.
The Dragons backline is very youthful, exemplified by 19-year-old Jack Dixon in at 12, and 22-year-old Ross Wardle at 13.
Connacht are going to take it to these two, attempting to punch holes in midfield, off which their strike runners and back three will feed. If that works, expect to see Dragons’ back three of Will Harries, Tom Prydie and Dan Evans under plenty of pressure.
I think Connacht will get the upper hand in these exchanges, and coupled with a solid last quarter, where Connacht play percentages, and control Dragons’ replacement back row Toby Faletau, this should be an away win.
Verdict: Connacht to win by eight.