Former Ireland scrum half Michael Bradley begins his seventh season in charge of Connacht with a tough Magners League opener against the Ospreys tonight. The westerners ended last season’s league with four successive defeats and are doubly determined to get the new campaign off to a winning start.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Friday, September 4
CONNACHT v OSPREYS, The Sportsground, 7pm
Team News: Three players will make their competitive debuts for Connacht when they open their Magners League campaign against the Ospreys at the Sportsground on Friday evening.
Brian Tuohy will start on the right wing, Bernie Upton is in the second row and Mike McComish is selected at number 8 for Connacht’s opening game of the Magners League season.
Two more new players, prop Jamie Hagan and out-half Miah Nikora, have been included among the replacements.
Meanwhile, 2009 Lions scrum half Mike Phillips will an earlier-than-expected return for the Ospreys in Galway.
He will partner Dan Biggar at half-back, with another Lion in the form of James Hook on the region’s replacements bench.
Former Scarlets full-back Barry Davies and All Black powerhouse Jerry Collins will make their competitive debuts for the Ospreys, with Tom Isaacs another newcomer on the bench.
CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy; Brian Tuohy, Niva Ta’auso, Keith Matthews, Fionn Carr; Ian Keatley, Frank Murphy; Brett Wilkinson, Sean Cronin, Robbie Morris, Andrew Browne, Bernie Upton, John Muldoon (capt), Ray Ofisa, Mike McComish.
Replacements: Adrian Flavin, Jamie Hagan, Michael Swift, Johnny O’Connor, Conor O’Loughlin, Miah Nikora, Troy Nathan.
OSPREYS: Barry Davies; Jonny Vaughton, Sonny Parker, Andrew Bishop, Nikki Walker; Dan Biggar, Mike Phillips; Duncan Jones, Richard Hibbard, Cai Griffiths, Ian Gough, Andy Lloyd, Jerry Collins, Marty Holah, Ryan Jones (capt).
Replacements: Huw Bennett, Paul James, Tom Smith, Filo Tiatia, Tom Isaacs, James Hook, Jonathan Spratt.
Referee: Graham Knox (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Paul Haycock, Brian MacNeice (both Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 3/1; Draw: 22/1; Ospreys to win: 2/9
Say What: Michael Bradley (Connacht) – “I think we have a better squad. I think even as an organisation we are taking a harder view of ourselves and questioning what we do.
“There is a serious focus on the result – even though to some degree you don’t control it, a lot hangs on it. The management know it, the players know that, and the organisation knows it.
“I am very confident if we produce the rugby we can produce, then we will go very well this year.
“The attitude is one of the key differences. The guys are doing most of the fighting now in their heads as opposed to the physical.
“The Ulster game (in a few weeks) is a massive one for us. You will see Connacht progress in my opinion once we start turning over Ulster.
“It’s a major focus for us this year. I know each game is worth four or five points, but it is a massive challenge for us.
“We have them at home first, and we are not afraid to say it is match we really want to win.”
Sean Holley (Ospreys) – “After the hard work of pre-season, and some good performances and results in our two fixtures against Guinness Premiership opposition, everybody at the Ospreys is looking forward to starting the real business of the Magners League.
“We realise that we aren’t the finished article at this moment and that we need to keep working and improving week-on-week, but spirits are good in the camp after a good pre-season and we are raring to go.
“Connacht are really tough customers, and will provide a real test for us. They’ve certainly improved their style of play in the last year or two.
“Michael Bradley has had them for a long time now and he’s moved his squad in a slightly different direction.
“The Sportsground isn’t an easy place to play, but having said that, when you look down our squad sheet for the weekend, we’re in good shape.
“We’ve got a squad that is pretty healthy compared to last season, with some additions.
“We’ve had a great pre-season, I’d go as far as to say the best in the seven years that I’ve been at the Ospreys now, it’s been hard work and it’s been enjoyable.
“There’s an air of determination around, so we’ve got to be confident going there.”
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, September 8, 2006 – Connacht 15 Ospreys 10, The Sportsground
Saturday, February 17, 2007 – Ospreys 31 Connacht 10, Liberty Stadium
Saturday, February 16, 2008 – Ospreys 37 Connacht 7, Liberty Stadium
Friday, May 9, 2008 – Connacht 24 Ospreys 20, The Sportsground
Friday, September 5, 2008 – Connacht 3 Ospreys 16, The Sportsground
Sunday, February 22, 2009 – Ospreys 22 Connacht 10, Liberty Stadium
– Connacht kick off the season with a home game at the Sportsground for the sixth time in the last seven seasons
– Connacht lost their last four Magners League matches of the 2008/09 season and gained just one victory over a Welsh region last season (39-17 at home to the Dragons in April)
– The Ospreys have lost just once in their first Magners League game of a new season in the last six years (17-15 at the Cardiff Blues in 2007). The Ospreys have lost on three of their last four visits to Ireland in all competitions
– This game is a repeat of last season’s round one encounter in Galway which was won 16-3 by the Welshmen
– Connacht have won just one of their last five meetings with the Ospreys (24-20 at the Sportsground in May 2008)