Connacht have struggled to get results against the Ospreys, with just one win since the 2007/08 season, so a maiden victory at the Liberty Stadium would give Pat Lam’s men a big lift ahead of the international break.
GUINNESS PRO12: Friday, October 31
OSPREYS (1st) v CONNACHT (5th), Liberty Stadium, 7.35pm (live BBC 2 Wales/Galway Bay FM)
Team News: Connacht head coach Pat Lam has made nine changes to his starting line-up ahead of the GUINNESS PRO12 game away to the Ospreys on Friday night.
New recruit Bundee Aki will make his first appearance in a Connacht jersey at the Liberty Stadium, starting in a centre partnership with Craig Ronaldson.
Ireland squad members Kieran Marmion, Rodney Ah You and Darragh Leader have all been temporarily released from the international training camp to play a part in the league game, with Marmion and Ah You set to start.
Winger Matt Healy and out-half Jack Carty are both recalled to the back-line, while the 22-year-old Shane Layden is given the nod at full-back for his second start of the season.
Celebrating his 24th birthday today, lock Quinn Roux returns to the pack and the Galway-born duo of captain John Muldoon and Eoin McKeon are named in the back row.
The most notable inclusion on the bench is Mayo-born prop Jamie Dever (pictured below), who is in line to make his senior Connacht debut. The 21-year-old rejoined the Connacht Academy this season following a year-long sabbatical that allowed him to recover from a lengthy foot injury.
JP Cooney, another of the province’s props, is also likely to make his first appearance of the season against the league leaders in Swansea.
Meanwhile, the Ospreys are missing 12 players through injury and a further seven due to international commitments as they welcome Connacht to the Liberty Stadium.
In-form half-backs Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar head the list of Wales-tied players, along with Dan Baker, Scott Baldwin, Alun Wyn Jones, James King and Nicky Smith.
The 21-year-old Ieuan Jones will make his senior debut for the Ospreys from number 8 as one of nine personnel changes to the team that lost away to Northampton Saints in the European Champions Cup.
Andrew Bishop is fit to return at outside centre with Jeff Hassler reverting to his regular right wing spot, while Sam Davies and Martin Roberts will combine at half-back.
There is an all-new front row of Duncan Jones, hooker Sam Parry and Aaron Jarvis. Stand-in captain Lloyd Peers (23) is joined in the second row by South African Rynier Bernardo.
Sam Lewis and debutant Jones link up with openside Justin Tipuric in the back row, while Rory Thornton and Jordan Collier are standing by to win their first caps for the Welsh region as replacements.
OSPREYS: Dan Evans; Jeff Hassler, Andrew Bishop, Josh Matavesi, Tom Grabham; Sam Davies, Martin Roberts; Duncan Jones, Sam Parry, Aaron Jarvis, Lloyd Peers (capt), Rynier Bernardo, Sam Lewis, Justin Tipuric, Ieuan Jones.
Replacements: Scott Otten, Marc Thomas, Dmitri Arhip, Rory Thornton, Jordan Collier, Tom Habberfield, Ashley Beck, Aisea Natoga.
CONNACHT: Shane Layden; Niyi Adeolokun, Bundee Aki, Craig Ronaldson, Matt Healy; Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, Jason Harris-Wright, Rodney Ah You, Michael Kearney, Quinn Roux, John Muldoon (capt), Eoin McKeon, George Naoupu.
Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Jamie Dever, JP Cooney, Andrew Browne, Willie Faloon, Ian Porter, Dave McSharry, Darragh Leader.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Ben Whitehouse, Martyn Lewis (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Paul Adams (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ospreys to win: 1/7; Draw: 25/1; Connacht to win: 4/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Pat Lam (Connacht) – “With Robbie (Henshaw) away in Ireland camp, Bundee gets his opportunity a bit earlier than expected after just arriving in the country a week-and-a-half ago.
“We were initially looking at Bundee for our next game with Zebre but it’s great that he’s been keen to get going as soon as possible. He’s been very open to learning quickly in training and has made a big effort in getting to know his team-mates.
“There will undoubtedly be a good bit of spotlight on him tomorrow night against the Ospreys, but as always it is only a team effort that can lead to a positive outcome for us.
“As foreseen we’ve made a good few changes this week and injuries and international call-ups considered, we believe we have the strongest squad possible going out there tomorrow night.
“We’re going down to play the top team in the league on their home ground. It is our biggest challenge of the season so far. The Ospreys are a well-coached, well-drilled side with strike power all over the field.
“We know we will have to raise our standards considerably from last week, particularly in defence. But we’re all focused on the process of picking up as many league points as we can.”
Steve Tandy (Ospreys) – “This time of the year is always a tough period, with international call-ups and injuries stretching the squad depth and that’s the case again this season.
“In saying that, it’s an exciting time when we get to see some of the young talent coming through the ranks, and get to see them stepping up in training and on matchday alongside some of the senior Ospreys.
“Expectation is always high on anyone wearing the Ospreys jersey, internally more so than externally. The boys coming into the group have been made well aware of the standards they need to reach during this month and what is expected of them.
“We’ve made a very promising start in the PRO12 and the onus is on these boys to build on that, starting on Friday.”
Top Scorers – 2014/15 GUINNESS PRO12: Ospreys – Points: Dan Biggar 70; Tries: Rhys Webb 5; Connacht – Points: Darragh Leader 20; Tries: Kieran Marmion 2
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, September 30, 2011 – Ospreys 26 Connacht 21, Liberty Stadium
Saturday, November 26, 2011 – Connacht 6 Ospreys 17, the Sportsground
Saturday, October 27, 2012 – Ospreys 26 Connacht 9, Liberty Stadium
Friday, February 15, 2013 – Connacht 22 Ospreys 10, the Sportsground
Saturday, September 28, 2013 – Connacht 26 Ospreys 43, the Sportsground
Saturday, May 10, 2014 – Ospreys 45 Connacht 20, Liberty Stadium
– The Ospreys have won all six of their GUINNESS PRO12 games so far this season and another victory this weekend will see them equal their best ever start to a league campaign, set in 2004/05
– The Welshmen have lost only once at the Liberty Stadium in any competitions since January: 25-11 to Munster in the PRO12 on February 23
– Connacht’s only defeat in the PRO12 this season came in round 4 at Glasgow Warriors. The westerners are unbeaten against Welsh regions this season, having defeated the Newport Gwent Dragons and drawn with Cardiff Blues, both in Galway
– Connacht have beaten the Ospreys just once since the 2007/08 season: 22-10 at the Sportsground on February 15, 2013, while the province have lost on all nine previous visits they have made to the Liberty Stadium