Connacht are motoring along in third place after the opening four rounds of the RaboDirect PRO12. Can they pull off a prized away win over the Ospreys on Friday? If they do, it will be just their second victory on Welsh soil since November 2004.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, September 30
OSPREYS (2nd) v CONNACHT (3rd), Liberty Stadium, 7.30pm (live Galway Bay FM)
Team News: Connacht head coach Eric Elwood has finalised his team and replacements for Friday’s RaboDirect PRO12 clash with the Ospreys in Swansea.
Following last weekend’s home win over the Newport Gwent Dragons, Connacht will field an unchanged back-line with Gavin Duffy captaining the side from full-back, Eoin Griffin and Henry Fa’afili in the centre and Brian Tuohy and Tiernan O’Halloran on the wings.
The half-back pairing of Frank Murphy and Niall O’Connor remains in situ. Paul O’Donohoe and Matthew Jarvis provide cover from the replacements bench along with former Cardiff Blues winger James Loxton.
A change in the front row sees Dylan Rogers replace Rodney Ah You at tighthead prop. Stewart Maguire covers that position from the bench.
Michael Swift has recovered from the illness that ruled him out of contention last week and returns to the starting line-up, while Dave Gannon drops to the bench.
The other change in the pack sees Thomas Anderson making his first competitive start for the province at blindside flanker.
The 28-year-old Magherafelt-born forward will take over from Ray Ofisa. Brett Wilkinson and Ethienne Reynecke join Rogers in the front row, while Mike McCarthy and Swift will combine in the second row.
Connacht will be hoping to build on their comeback victory over the Dragons. With three wins from their opening four league games, the westerners currently sit in third position and a rare away win over the Ospreys would see them leapfrog the Welsh region into second.
Meanwhile, the unbeaten Ospreys have made just one change to the team that started last Sunday’s 32-14 triumph over Ulster at the Liberty Stadium.
James Goode, who has picked up a groin injury, is not fit to play so Ian Evans will return to second row duty, slotting in beside the experienced Ian Gough.
The Welsh region are missing 10 players who are down in New Zealand at the Rugby World Cup, while backs Gareth Owen (shoulder), Nikki Walker (knee) and Ashley Beck (shoulder) are on the injury list along with Goode.
OSPREYS: Barry Davies; Richard Fussell, Tom Isaacs, Andrew Bishop, Hanno Dirksen; Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb; Duncan Jones, Richard Hibbard, Aaron Jarvis, Ian Gough, Ian Evans, Tom Smith, Justin Tipuric (capt), Jonathan Thomas.
Replacements: Mefin Davies, Cai Griffiths, Joe Rees, James King, Joe Bearman, Matthew Morgan, Sonny Parker, Kristian Phillips.
CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy (capt); Brian Tuohy, Eoin Griffin, Henry Fa’afili, Tiernan O’Halloran; Niall O’Connor, Frank Murphy; Brett Wilkinson, Ethienne Reynecke, Dylan Rogers, Michael Swift, Mike McCarthy, Thomas Anderson, Johnny O’Connor, John Muldoon.
Replacements: Adrian Flavin, Ronan Loughney, Stewart Maguire, Dave Gannon, Ray Ofisa, Paul O’Donohoe, Matthew Jarvis, James Loxton.
Referee: Stefano Penne (Italy)
Assistant Referees: James Jones, Wayne Davies (both Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ospreys to win: 1/9; Draw: 25/1; Connacht to win: 5/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Eric Elwood (Connacht) – “We have two big games coming up with the Ospreys and Leinster away – two very good outfits with big squads so we are under no illusions. We have a tough two weeks before the break.
“The Ospreys are a great side, a quality side – to me they are the best team in the league to date – the manner in which they play, their physicality, quality of personnel, the way they play the game defensively.
“We are going to be well tested in the Liberty. They put it up to Ulster and Leinster (in recent week) and they are extremely difficult to beat at home.
“We know and recognise we cannot to dig ourselves out of big holes every time. When you come up against the Ospreys and you give them 10 points, then you are in for a long night.
“It is something we need to get to get to grips with quickly because there is no tougher team than the Ospreys.
“History would say it going to be extremely diffiucult but it’s improtant to get something out of it. We will be be looking for minute one-to-minute eighty because they will not stop.
“They beat Edinburgh in the 82nd minute so you know they are coming at you for the whole 80 minutes. We have to show our mettle because we cannot expect favours from anyone – it’s going to be tough.”
Sean Holley (Ospreys) – “We are getting the outcome on the scoreboard but there is still plenty for us to work on. We are tweaking a few things and ever trying to improve the players we’ve got.
“The most promising thing for us is we are fielding 22 guys who are Welsh and Hanno (Dirksen) who will soon qualify for Wales. There’s a good mix in terms of age and experience in the group.
“Connacht are a really tenacious side, well-coached and well-drilled. They lose very few at these sort of periods and it makes them a tough proposition. They’ve got a good start so they’re on the bounce.
“The fact that we’re at home is good for us, to go give us a bit of momentum, the fact that the game isn’t on TV is a plus for us as hopefully it’ll give us a bit more of a walk-up crowd, to support a team that is winning, that is playing well.
“Our crowd this season has been nothing short of fantastic. There’s been a real core I think, and you can see a huge amount of passion. They are getting behind this group, they realise what we are doing and they are joining in.”
Top Scorers – 2011/12 RaboDirect PRO12: Ospreys: Points: Dan Biggar 67; Tries: Justin Tipuric, Rhys Webb 2 each; Connacht – Points: Matthew Jarvis 21; Tries: Rodney Ah You, Mark McCrea, Niall O’Connor, Eoin Griffin, Gavin Duffy 1 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Friday, November 19, 2010 – Connacht 15 Ospreys 16, the Sportsground
Sunday, February 27, 2011 – Ospreys 33 Connacht 18, Liberty Stadium
– The Ospreys have made their best start to a season since they won their first seven matches of the 2004/05 campaign
– The Ospreys have lost just once at the Liberty Stadium since last October, going down 22-22 to Munster on April 23 last
– Connacht have won three of their four RaboDirect PRO12 games this season to reside in third place in the standings
– Connacht’s only victory in Wales since 2004 was a 13-11 triumph at the Dragons on April 18, 2008
– The Ospreys have won their last six matches against Connacht, while the province’s last victory on Ospreys soil came at the Gnoll on November 21, 2004