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RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Connacht v Ospreys

RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Connacht v Ospreys

Connacht will have revenge on their minds when they entertain the Ospreys, the most consistent team over the first phase of the RaboDirect PRO12. Sean Holley admitted his charges were ‘very fortunate’ to claim a narrow win in the sides’ September clash in Swansea.

RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, November 26

CONNACHT (9th) v OSPREYS (1st), the Sportsground, 6.30pm (live TG4/S4C)

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Team News: Connacht head coach Eric Elwood has announced his starting line-up and replacements for Saturday’s RaboDirect PRO12 match against the Ospreys at the Sportsground.

Elwood has been forced to make three personnel changes and a number of positional switches to the side that took on Toulouse in the Heineken Cup last weekend.

Mike McCarthy is serving a two-week ban, the province’s most-capped player Michael Swift is nursing a knee injury and young centre Eoin Griffin is recovering from a hamstring injury.

The front row remains unchanged from the European game with Connacht centurions Brett Wilkinson and Adrian Flavin linking up again with Rodney Ah You.

David Gannon retains his place in the second row and is joined by George Naoupu who replaces the injured Swift in the engine room of the scrum.

The pair played against each other in those positions in the 2004 Under-21 World Championship final, Gannon captaining the Ireland side and Naoupu lining out for New Zealand.

Thomas Anderson, former skipper John Muldoon and Ray Ofisa make up the rest of the pack in a mobile and dynamic back row.

Paul O’Donohoe and Miah Nikora continue their successful half-back pairing, as do Tiernan O’Halloran, Brian Tuohy and captain Gavin Duffy in the back-three.

There is a new-look centre combination with Samoan international Henry Fa’afili joining recent debutant David McSharry in the Connacht midfield.

Among the replacements, Elwood can call on the experience of Ethienne Reynecke and Ronan Loughney along with promising prop Stewart Maguire in the front row.

Michael Kearney and Eoghan Grace, who have both shone for Connacht ‘A’ in recent weeks, complete the forward reserves.

Frank Murphy and Niall O’Connor are the replacement half-backs, while flying winger Mark McCrea covers the outside backs.

Meanwhile, Wales prop Duncan Jones will win his 150th cap for the Ospreys as a starter in this weekend’s clash in Galway.

The Welsh region, who battled back to secure a late Heineken Cup draw away to Benetton Treviso, are missing 18 players due to international duty and an untimely spate of injuries.

Jones has recovered from a calf injury to start in the front row and experienced lock Ian Gough will also be making his 100th appearance in the visitors’ pack.

With Alun Wyn Jones and James Goode ruled out by foot and back injuries respectively, James King will be Gough’s second row partner.

Ireland international Tommy Bowe has overcome a dead leg to take his place on the right wing, with Rhys Webb replacing the injured Kahn Fotuali’i (ribs) at scrum half and Chauncey O’Toole handed his league debut at openside flanker.

CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy (capt); Brian Tuohy, David McSharry, Henry Fa’afili, Tiernan O’Halloran; Miah Nikora, Paul O’Donohoe; Brett Wilkinson, Adrian Flavin, Rodney Ah You, David Gannon, George Naoupu, Thomas Anderson, John Muldoon, Ray Ofisa.

Replacements: Ethienne Reynecke, Ronan Loughney, Stewart Maguire, Michael Kearney, Eoghan Grace, Frank Murphy, Niall O’Connor, Mark McCrea.

OSPREYS: Barry Davies; Tommy Bowe, Andrew Bishop, Ashley Beck, Richard Fussell; Matthew Morgan, Rhys Webb; Duncan Jones, Richard Hibbard, Aaron Jarvis, Ian Gough, James King, Tom Smith (capt), Chauncey O’Toole, Joe Bearman.

Replacements: Mefin Davies, Cai Griffiths, Joe Rees, James Goode, George Stowers, Tom Isaacs, Sonny Parker, Hanno Dirksen.

Referee: Andrew McMenemy (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Michael Black, Barrie O’Connell (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Seamus Flannery (Ireland)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 5/4; Draw: 16/1; Ospreys to win: 4/6

Pre-Match Quotes: Eric Elwood (Connacht) – “The turnaround is very quick, but we have two home games now in the RaboDirect PRO12, and it is important to park the euphoria of Toulouse,” he told the Galway Advertiser.

“We feel going into the next bout of European games that we have two home games in the Rabo and, if we can get results, then we can rocket up.

“Even though we did not get the results we would have liked in the two European games, we played at a different level of intensity and performance.

“And if we can bring that to the two games, starting with the Ospreys, that is important. I believe the experience will pay dividends, but we have to match that with the performance and a win if possible.

“The players have to realise they have competed very well against quality opposition and we have a home game, and we have targeted all home games no matter who we are playing.

“All that matters is four points in the PRO12. If we can get some points, then we can go up the table nicely. I have no doubt the Ospreys will be coming after us. They know they won’t get it easy.”

Sean Holley (Ospreys) – “Connacht away at the Sportground is always a tough fixture It’s a difficult place to play with tough conditions and a partisan crowd, so it’s going to be a real experience for some of the youngsters in the squad who may not have played there before.

“We were very fortunate to secure the win at the Liberty earlier in the season so we are well aware of what to expect on Saturday night.

“The next two weeks provide a great opportunity for the group that started the season to work closely together again, to build on the fantastic start they got us off to in the PRO12 and to work to keep us up there at the top.

“Some of the boys who came in at the start of the season have stayed in the group for the fixtures since then, so that shows what’s at stake for boys coming in this week.

“Connacht away and then Munster home next Saturday will provide a real test of our strength in depth, but it’s an exciting time for us all. It’s up to us over the next couple of weeks to perform well, be clinical and accurate, and these boys can make a real impact.”

Top Scorers – 2011/12 RaboDirect PRO12: Connacht – Points: Niall O’Connor 42; Tries: Gavin Duffy 3; Ospreys – Points: Dan Biggar 104; Tries: Rhys Webb 3


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
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


– Connacht have slipped to six straight defeats in all competitions, since their 17-13 victory over the Newport Gwent Dragons at the Sportsground on September 23

– The Ospreys sit top of the RaboDirect PRO12 table and are unbeaten in their last three matches in all competitions, a sequence which includes two draws

– The Welshmen have won all four contests they have played against Irish opponents so far in this campaign

– Connacht have not beaten the Ospreys since May 2008 when the Welsh region visited the Sportsground and perished 24-20