Connacht are hoping to put an end to their poor away form in the Magners League – they have lost their last 14 away matches in the competition. On Sunday, Michael Bradley’s men travel to the Liberty Stadium to face the third-placed Ospreys, who beat them 19-12 in Galway back in September.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Sunday, February 21
OSPREYS (3rd) v CONNACHT (10th), Liberty Stadium, 5pm (live Setanta Sports Ireland/S4C)
Team News: Connacht coach Michael Bradley has selected a strong side for Sunday’s Magners League meeting with the Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium.
Ireland international Gavin Duffy returns at full-back as Connacht resume their Magners League campaign with a trip to the third-placed Ospreys.
Bradley made four changes to the team that started the province’s last game – their 66-0 Amlin Challenge Cup win over Olympus Rugby Madrid on January 23.
Liam Bibo drops to the bench as Duffy is reinstalled at full-back and Troy Nathan moves to the right wing. The rest of the back-line is unchanged, with scrum half Frank Murphy having recovered from a calf injury.
With Miah Nikora out of action, Nathan will also provide cover for Ian Keatley at out-half.
There are three changes up front. Brett Wilkinson replaces Ronan Loughney at loosehead prop, Bernie Upton comes in for Mike McCarthy in the second row and Johnny O’Connor makes way for Ray Ofisa at openside flanker.
Bradley said: “Over the last couple of years it has been difficult for us going to Wales, but around this time of the year we would perceive ourselves as having a bit of an advantage on sides that have a lot of international commitments.
“If we start well and maintain our defence, along with the feel-good factor from the Amlin Challenge Cup, we could go well against the Ospreys but it will be difficult.”
Meanwhile, Wales and Lions scrum half Mike Phillips will start from the replacements bench as the Ospreys entertain Connacht. Phillips has been out of action since damaging ankle ligaments against Clermont Auvergne in October.
Out-half Dan Biggar and lock Ian Gough have been released from Wales duty and have been included in the Ospreys side, along with experienced campaigners like Sonny Parker, Jamie Nutbrown, Marty Holah and Filo Tiatia.
Talented teenage full-back Tom Prydie, who was selected in Wales’ extended Six Nations squad, has been named on the Ospreys’ bench.
OSPREYS: Gareth Owen; Jonny Vaughton, Sonny Parker, Ashley Beck, Nikki Walker; Dan Biggar, Jamie Nutbrown; Ryan Bevington, Richard Hibbard, Craig Mitchell, Ian Gough (capt), Ian Evans, Tom Smith, Marty Holah, Filo Tiatia.
Replacements: Ed Shervington, Cai Griffiths, Andy Lloyd, Jerry Collins, Mike Phillips, Barry Davies, Tom Prydie.
CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy; Troy Nathan, Niva Ta’auso, Keith Mathews, Fionn Carr; Ian Keatley, Frank Murphy; Brett Wilkinson, Sean Cronin, Robbie Morris, Michael Swift, Bernie Upton, John Muldoon, Ray Ofisa, George Naoupu.
Replacements: Adrian Flavin, Jamie Hagan, Mike McCarthy, Johnny O’Connor, Conor O’Loughlin, Adian Wynne, Liam Bibo.
Referee: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: James Jones, Huw Griffiths (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Nigel Whitehouse (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ospreys to win: 1/5; Draw: 22/1; Connacht to win: 10/3
Pre-Match Quotes: Michael Bradley (Connacht) – “We have struggled in the dressing room afterwards trying to figure out how we didn’t win (away from home) or get something out of it, but we are getting very close.
“We know that if manage to do what we can do well, what we have done at home and in the Amlin Challenge Cup, we will get the wins. It is the consistency that is bothering us.”
Scott Johnson (Ospreys) – “It’s really good to get back into action again after spending the last couple of weeks just working hard in training while the Six Nations took centre stage.
“We’re in a funny position at the moment, with so many kids away with their country, but I’ve always believed that when we are without the international boys, it’s a real good opportunity for some of other boys in the squad to front up.
“It’s not going to be a walk in the park for us (against Connacht), we know that we have to roll up our sleeves and battle on Sunday. There isn’t a person in rugby who can say they don’t know the kind of team Connacht is.
“They are brave, will not go away and they’ll be competitive at all levels. They are vastly underrated because they don’t have the big names, but there’s much to admire about them and they will push us all the way, of that I’m sure.
“We know what to expect, and we know that we have to prepare for this in the right way or we will find out for ourselves exactly how capable Connacht are of giving anyone a bloody nose.”
Top Scorers – 2009/10 Magners League: Ospreys – Points: Dan Biggar 76; Tries: Tommy Bowe 4; Connacht – Points: Ian Keatley 70; Tries: Fionn Carr 4
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Friday, September 4, 2009 – Connacht 12 Ospreys 19, The Sportsground
– The Ospreys’ last five matches have all been won by the home team on the day, while their only defeat in their last seven Magners League encounters was a 20-12 reversal at the Cardiff Blues on October 24
– The Ospreys have won their last five games at the Liberty Stadium
– Connacht are still to pick up a league point on their travels in the Magners League since their 13-11 victory at the Newport Gwent Dragons on April 18, 2008, but they have won four of their last five games in all competitions
– Connacht have lost their last 14 away games in the Magners League. The Ospreys have won their last three fixtures with Connacht, and the westerners have never won in four previous visits to the Liberty Stadium