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URC Preview – Must win game for Connacht against Scarlets


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The term ‘Must win game’ gets thrown around a lot in modern day sports and more often than not it’s used incorrectly. However, I feel that Connacht fans and Connacht players alike will view this Friday’s home game to the Scarlets as a must win game. Let me explain.



First let’s look at the visitors to the Sportsgrounds this Friday. Scarlets currently sit 13th in the URC table, two spots ahead of Connacht. Up until last week they had endured a poor start to the season also but had separated themselves with bonus points and then last week getting the full five points with a home win against Zebre.


They have a few outstanding performers. The phenomenal Sione Kalamafoni remains unrivalled for his work rate on the ball. He has carried the ball eight-one times so far this season, thirty more than nearest competitor Mike Lowry. He has also made the most metres in contact with eighty-three metres. Tongan Lock Sam Lousi has also impressed and opted to tackle above the waist consistently this season, making fifty-two such tackles – as many as any other player in the league.


An interesting stat going into this game is that Scarlets have lost none of the twenty-five scrums that they have fed the ball into so far this season.

An impressive stat and only shared by Edinburgh in the entire league. With Connacht looking more impressive in that department it will be a good test to see if they can break that record this week.



While we have seen a lot of good over the past two weekends, we still see some issues with ball in hand for Connacht. Connacht currently have the fewest offloads (24) and try assists (2) of any team in the league. For a team who prides themselves on playing expansive free flowing rugby, this will be a worrying stat for Andy Friend.


Discipline is still rearing its ugly head five games into the season. Connacht are still averaging over thirteen penalties a game and they seem to keep repeating the same mistakes as six of their penalties have come from infringements at the line-out.


Connacht won the last time these teams met last year in Llanelli so they will take confidence from that. They should also take confidence from the fact that although Scarlets are five points ahead of Connacht now, Scarlets have not faced the calibre of team that Connacht have so far. Scarlets have faced only one team (Ulster) that finished in the top eight of the table last year in their five games this season. Every team that Connacht have faced finished in the top eight so that should stand to Connacht in terms of intensity and physicality.


Scarlets have scored seventy-two points more than Connacht have this season. 

But you could argue that facing lesser opposition might have played a hand in that. Connacht have only conceded twenty-one points in their last two games and will look to continue to be that stingy this Friday. While Connacht have struggled to really open up and put big numbers up on the scoreboard, I am confident that this Friday could be the turning point for that. With how impressive Connacht have looked in the set piece, I think plenty of attacking platforms will be created and eventually this attack will click and all the territory we saw against Leinster will start to return points on the scoreboard.


So why is this a must win? Having only one win so far this season is obviously far from ideal, but when you look at the schedule it wasn’t very realistic to expect much more than that.  Having faced such tough opposition so early is not what any team wants but it also toughens you up and gets you to levels that playing lesser teams just doesn’t do.


Connacht need to turn what they have learned over the first five games into wins.

They have come through a hellish opening and now can see some teams they want to finish ahead of in the table. The reason this a must win is that if Connacht are to have any hopes of finishing top eight and getting into the playoffs, it has to start now. Connacht already sit nine points adrift of eighth spot, getting zero or even one point this weekend just won’t be enough. Its not inconceivable that if Connacht get a big win this Friday, they could go on a run and march up the table. If playoffs are a realistic target for this team, a win this Friday is a must.  


Commenting on the team selection, Director of Rugby Andy Friend says:

“We’ve had a tough start to the season, but if we can pick up a couple of wins in these last two rounds before the November break, then we’ll put ourselves in a much better position heading into the next block.

Scarlets are always a difficult team to face as they have quality players across the park. There’s nearly always one score separating the two sides at full-time, so it’ll no doubt be a tight affair. We need to ensure we bring the intent and physicality that we’ve shown in the last two matches, as well as improving our ability to finish the multiple opportunities that we’re creating. If we can do that, then we’ll put ourselves in a great position to obtain the result that we’re all chasing.”

Friday 21st October 2022, 19:35 @ The Sportsground

15. Tiernan O’Halloran (207)
14. John Porch (64)
13. Byron Ralston (5)
12. David Hawkshaw (5)
11. Mack Hansen (18)
10. Jack Carty (182) (C)
9. Kieran Marmion (213)
1. Denis Buckley (213)
2. Dave Heffernan (170)
3. Finlay Bealham (178)
4. Niall Murray (39)
5. Leva Fifita (17)
6. Cian Prendergast (32)
7. Conor Oliver (45)
8. Paul Boyle (77)

16. Dylan Tierney-Martin (8)
17. Jordan Duggan (28)
18. Jack Aungier (36)
19. Oisín Dowling (29)
20. Jarrad Butler (98)
21. Colm Reilly (12)
22. Cathal Forde (2)
23. Alex Wootton (35)

Flanker Dan Thomas, who has joined on a two-match loan deal from Bristol Bears, is named in the No. 7 jersey, while Steff Evans and Steff Thomas return to the run-on side.

Scott Williams and Wyn Jones have been ruled out because of injury, while Sam Lousi has been suspended following his red card against Zebre.

Leigh Halfpenny, Johnny McNicholl and Ryan Conbeer are again named in the back three.

Steff Evans is drafted into midfield alongside skipper Jonathan Davies, while Sam Costelow and Kieran Hardy — two of seven Scarlets named in Wales’ Autumn Series squad — continue at half-back.

Scarlets team to play Connacht at The Sportsground on Friday, October 21 (19:35; BBC & Premier Sports)

15 Leigh Halfpenny; 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Steff Evans, 12 Jonathan Davies (capt), 11 Ryan Conbeer; 10 Sam Costelow, 9 Kieran Hardy; 1 Steff Thomas, 2 Ken Owens, 3 Harri O’Connor 4 Jac Price, 5 Tom Price, 6 Josh Macleod, 7 Dan Thomas, 8 Sione Kalamafoni.

Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Kemsley Mathias, 18 WillGriff John, 19 Morgan Jones, 20 Iwan Shenton, 21 Dane Blacker, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Corey Baldwin.


Sam Lousi, Vaea Fifita, Wyn Jones, Scott Williams, Blade Thomson, Johnny Williams, Ioan Nicholas, Tomás Lezana, Tom Rogers, Aaron Shingler, Dan Davis, Phil Price, Lewis Rawlins, Joe Roberts, Carwyn Tuipulotu, Callum Williams, Samson Lee, Griff Evans.

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