Buoyed by last week’s friendly win over Samoa, Connacht are hoping to make up some lost ground in the Magners League by defeating a Jerry Collins-led Ospreys side. The westerners, winless in the league since September, will give youngsters Eoin Griffin and Dermot Murphy a chance to impress.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Friday, November 19
CONNACHT (11th) v OSPREYS (8th), the Sportsground, 7pm (live Galway Bay FM)
Team News: Connacht head coach Eric Elwood has named his team to face the Ospreys at the Sportsgound on Friday night.
Young hooker Dermot Murphy is set to make his first Magners League start for Connacht, after four appearances off the bench. He comes in for the injured Adrian Flavin (fractured thumb).
The 21-year-old Galwegians clubman slots into the front row alongside Brett Wilkinson and Jamie Hagan, while Michael Swift and Bernie Upton renew their second row partnership.
In all, Elwood has made six changes in personnel to the side that securing a losing bonus point in Treviso in their last league game.
Mike McCarthy moves into the back row to cover for the injured Ray Ofisa, allowing New Zealander Upton to return at lock.
In the backs, Troy Nathan gets the right wing berth ahead of Darragh Fanning, and Miah Nikora and Frank Murphy return at half-back.
Nikora, the former New Zealand underage international, is rewarded for his impressive 16-point display in last week’s win over Samoa.
The 20-year-old Eoin Griffin, who was the man-of-the-match in the Samoa game, gets a chance to impress in midfield alongside Keith Matthews. He comes in for the injured Niva Ta’auso.
Friday’s match will mark full-back Gavin Duffy’s 100th competitive appearance for his native province. The Ballina native made his senior debut for Connacht against Cardiff back in 2001.
Having been released from the Ireland squad this week, Duffy will join the elite group of Connacht centurions which includes his current coach Elwood and and team-mates Swift and Wilkinson.
Meanwhile, Conor McInerney, a member of the Ireland Under-20s’ Grand Slam winning side from 2007, will make his first Magners League start for the Ospreys on Friday.
McInerney is a former Leinster underage captain and member of the province’s Academy. The 23-year-old lock made the switch to the Ospreys last year and has made four regional appearances to date.
The Ospreys management have also handed teenager Matthew Morgan his Magners League debut. The promising out-half scored a try in the Ospreys’ 46-13 LV= Cup victory over Leicester Tigers last time out.
Former All Black Jerry Collins will captain the title holders as they look to get their league campaign back on track after recent defeats to Glasgow Warriors and the Dragons.
CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy; Troy Nathan, Eoin Griffin, Keith Matthews, Fionn Carr; Miah Nikora, Frank Murphy; Brett Wilkinson, Dermot Murphy, Jamie Hagan, Michael Swift, Bernie Upton, Mike McCarthy, Johnny O’Connor, John Muldoon (capt).
Replacements: Ronan Loughney, Barry Fa’amausili, Dylan Rogers, Andrew Browne, Ezra Taylor, Cillian Willis, Ian Keatley, Darragh Fanning.
OSPREYS: Gareth Owen; Kristian Phillips, Sonny Parker, Ashley Beck, Richard Fussell; Matthew Morgan, Rhys Webb; Duncan Jones, Mefin Davies, Craig Mitchell, Conor McInerney, Ian Evans, Justin Tipuric, Marty Holah, Jerry Collins (capt).
Replacements: Scott Baldwin, Joe Rees, Cai Griffiths, James Goode, James King, Jamie Nutbrown, Matthew Jarvis, Barry Davies.
Referee: Peter Allan (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Dudley Phillips, Alan Rogan (both Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 4/6; Draw: 19/1; Ospreys to win: 6/5
Pre-Match Quotes: Eric Elwood (Connacht) – “The Ospreys are impressive. They have a big squad, full of quality players – that’s the culture of the Ospreys.
“Yes, they are missing some of their internationals, but they will still have the guts of another 10 on the pitch because that’s the strength in depth and experience they possess.
“We are entering an important part of the season so we need to get the wins and start climbing back up the table. That starts on Friday against the defending champions. They play high octane, a slighted unstructured game, so we will have to be on mettle.
“There is no point contracting players if you can’t trust them, no good putting them in for just friendlies. They need more game-time, and you have to show faith in them. Players like Eoin (Griffin) need the exposure to push on.
“Our crowds are getting better. They have been good for the home matches and they came out in good numbers for Samoa which was nice to see. They do make a difference and this is a big game for us.”
Sean Holley (Ospreys) – “I think the last two weeks have been really positive, culminating in the performance against Leicester. We know we’ve got some raw talent coming through in the region, although we don’t often get the chance to look at them together, which is something that the LV= Cup has afforded us the opportunity to do.
“A lot of the faces and combinations we saw last weekend (against Leicester) will front up again in Connacht. We’re excited about going there with this group of players.
“In recent seasons we’ve played them with near enough a full strength squad and we’ve had to really work hard to get a positive result, so it will be a really good test of where these players are right now.
“It’s a tough game and another learning curve for a lot of these players. It won’t be easy, but we’re looking forward to it. We’ve seen a significant change in the Connacht approach under Eric Elwood, they’ve made some good signings and are playing a far more expansive game.
“They are still really difficult to beat out there, but for different reasons now. We know the conditions are going to be difficult in Galway, but we’ve prepared for that, we know it’s going to be a real test of character for these boys.”
Top Scorers – 2010/11 Magners League: Connacht – Points: Ian Keatley 91; Tries: Fionn Carr 4; Ospreys – Points: Dan Biggar 58; Tries: Richard Fussell, Nikki Walker 4 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Sunday, February 21, 2010 – Ospreys 19 Connacht 17, Liberty Stadium
– Connacht have not won in the Magners League since September 17 when they visited Glasgow Warriors, however they have lost just once at the Sportsground in all competitions this season (18-6 to Leinster in the league on October 23)
– The Ospreys have lost back-to-back games in the Magners League, but have not lost three in-a-row in the competition since the 2007/08 season
– The Ospreys have won just one away game so far this season, beating the Scarlets 21-18 on October 2
– Connacht have won just one of their last seven encounters with the Ospreys, a 24-20 success at the Sportsground in May 2008