Connacht are at home for the second successive round in the RaboDirect PRO12 and having lost to Ulster last time out, they will be hoping for a much better performance and result when they host the Ospreys.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, September 28
CONNACHT (10th) v OSPREYS (2nd), the Sportsground, 5pm (live Galway Bay FM)
Team News: Connacht head coach Pat Lam has named his side to face the Ospreys at the Sportsground on Saturday, and there are four changes to the starting line-up from last weekend.
Up front, hooker Sean Henry comes in for the injured Jason Harris-Wright. The 25-year-old Sligo man, who picked up game-time in all three RaboDirect PRO12 fixtures to date, is joined in the front row by experienced props Brett Wilkinson and Nathan White.
There are changes to the back row with Galway man Andrew Browne named at blindside flanker and Jake Heenan moving to the openside berth.
In the backs, Fionn Carr makes way for Danie Poolman who is named in his favoured position on the right wing.
Summer signing Craig Ronaldson will start at out-half in his fourth professional appearance for the province since moving from reigning Ulster Bank League champions Lansdowne.
The 23-year-old was named Division 1A Player of the Year after scoring a remarkable 206 points in 16 games last season.
From the replacements bench, former Ireland Under-20 hooker James Rael could make his first appearance in Connacht colours on Saturday evening.
Speaking about the team selection and this weekend’s encounter with the Welsh region, Lam said: “Losing both Willie (Faloon) and Jason to injury was a big loss for us as a team, but it presents an opportunity for other young players to step up.
“We’re looking forward to Craig’s first start at this level. He deserves his opportunity after his work in pre-season and he has done well coming on from the bench in the last three games.
“The Ospreys present another big challenge for us and another step up. They are four-time league champions and are undefeated so far this season. They will come here full of confidence with their returning Lions players.
“But we’ve had a good week training and we’re looking forward to confronting the challenge ahead.”
Meanwhile, the Ospreys head to Galway on the back of a bonus point 44-10 triumph over Edinburgh and flanker Justin Tipuric coming in as the last of their 2013 Lions to start a match this season.
It means the Welsh side will have five current Lions forwards in their matchday squad, with Tipuric linking up with Alun Wyn Jones, Richard Hibbard, Adam Jones and Ian Evans.
In all, there are four changes in personnel from the Edinburgh game. Ben John comes in at outside centre for Andrew Bishop, while hooker Scott Baldwin and flankers James King and Tipuric are the new introductions up front.
Prop Aaron Jarvis and scrum half Tom Habberfield have recovered from injury to be included among the replacements, the former having proved his fitness by playing a club game for Bridgend last weekend.
CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy; Danie Poolman, Robbie Henshaw, Eoin Griffin, Matt Healy; Craig Ronaldson, Kieran Marmion; Brett Wilkinson, Sean Henry, Nathan White, Michael Swift (capt), Craig Clarke, Andrew Browne, Jake Heenan, John Muldoon.
Replacements: James Rael, Rodney Ah You, Ronan Loughney, Aly Muldowney, George Naoupu, Paul O’Donohoe, Dan Parks, Fionn Carr.
OSPREYS: Richard Fussell; Jeff Hassler, Ben John, Ashley Beck, Eli Walker; Dan Biggar, Tito Tebaldi; Duncan Jones, Scott Baldwin, Adam Jones, Alun Wyn Jones (capt), Ian Evans, James King, Justin Tipuric, Morgan Allen.
Replacements: Richard Hibbard, Ryan Bevington, Aaron Jarvis, Tyler Ardron, Joe Bearman, Tom Habberfield, Matthew Morgan, Jonathan Spratt.
Referee: Andrew McMenemy (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Leo Colgan, David O’Flynn (both Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 15/8; Draw: 20/1; Ospreys to win: 2/5
Pre-Match Quotes: Matt Healy (Connacht) – “Pat commands a lot of respect, he had a fantastic career so it’s great to have someone like that calling the shots.
“Whenever a new coach comes in there is a positive response and Pat has come in with a lot of new ideas and philosophies and it has created a great atmosphere at Connacht.
“The main one has been on fitness to be honest, pre-season was three pretty long months so it’s great to have the season cracking.
“That is because we have had a lot of focus on running with the ball, we want to try and keep the ball out of contact if we can this season and off the ground.
“From my point of view as a winger that is music to my ears and it has been very enjoyable so far, people are keen to get into training.
“One of the other things that Pat has come in and changed is the homework side of things. We do a lot of studying up on the next opposition but we try and get that done earlier in the week.
“Last year I struggled a bit with injuries and it was a bit frustrating, only three starts was tough but this season has started well and I hope it can continue.
“It’s always a nice start to a season to cross for a try in your first home game. You have to take it week by week, give my all and hope that I continue to be starting games.”
Steve Tandy (Ospreys) – “It’s always a difficult place to go. It’s as recently as February that we’ve come off second best there, so we’ll travel knowing that we have to go to go up a few notches from where we were last weekend if we want to take anything from this game.
“We know what to expect in terms of conditions, it’ll be wet and windy as it always is, and we realise that going to Galway you have to play the conditions as well as the opposition. We’ll have to be up for it from the first whistle or they’ll make us pay.
“The attitude in the group is good. We’ve seen some excellent performances from the core group here, the boys who have another year’s experience after last season, and they’ll be the ones who will be central to anything we achieve in the PRO12 this season.
“The Lions boys have been welcomed back in and have done a great job, while it’s good to see the likes of Tom Habberfield and Aaron Jarvis also involved again.
“It makes for some very tough selections in the coming weeks, but that competition for places is exactly what we need, and will help drive standards within the group as we look forward to coming home to the Liberty for games against Ulster and Leinster.”
Top Scorers – 2013/14 RaboDirect PRO12: Connacht – Points: Dan Parks 22; Tries: Matt Healy 2; Ospreys – Points: Dan Biggar 45; Tries: Richard Hibbard, Eli Walker 2 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, November 19, 2010 – Connacht 15 Ospreys 16, the Sportsground
Sunday, February 27, 2011 – Ospreys 33 Connacht 18, Liberty Stadium
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
– Connacht’s only victory in their last half a dozen RaboDirect PRO12 games was 25-16 at home to Zebre in round 1
– The westerners have won their last two home games against Welsh regions
– The Ospreys are one of only two undefeated sides in the PRO12 after three rounds
– The Welshmen have not beaten an Irish province in their last four fixtures, a sequence which includes two draws, with all games being played away from home
– Connacht won this equivalent fixture in Galway last season, 22-10, their first victory over the Ospreys since 2008