The curtain comes down on Connacht’s season in Swansea as Pat Lam’s men look to finish on a high by defeating the Ospreys and matching last year’s eighth place finish in the RaboDirect PRO12.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, May 10
OSPREYS (5th) v CONNACHT (9th), Liberty Stadium, 6.30pm (live BBC 2 Wales)
Team News: Head coach Pat Lam has made four personnel changes to his side for the final game of his first season in charge at Connacht.
The westerners travel to Liberty Stadium on Saturday evening to face the fifth-placed Ospreys. A win over the Welsh outfit would ensure Connacht equal their best ever league finish of eighth.
Up front, David Heffernan will make first start of the season in Connacht colours, replacing the injured Jason Harris-Wright.
The Mayo-born 23-year-old has made 11 appearances off the bench in this PRO12 campaign, scoring a last-minute try against Munster at Thomond Park.
Heffernan is joined in the front row by loosehead prop Denis Buckley, whose introduction to the starting line-up sees Ronan Loughney switch to tighthehead while Rodney Ah You, who has featured in every game this season, drops back to the replacements bench.
Andrew Browne will line out at blindside flanker with fellow Galway man and captain John Muldoon shifting to number 8.
Openside Conor Gilsenan earns his second PRO12 start for Connacht after his starting debut last weekend as a late replacement for the injured Willie Faloon.
Aly Muldowney and Michael Kearney retain their positions in the second row, completing the province’s all-Irish pack.
In the back-line there is a reshuffle in midfield as David McSharry returns at inside centre and Eoin Griffin moves outside him. Robbie Henshaw, who will be joining up with the squad late on Saturday morning due to a family commitment, is named among the reserve backs.
On the bench, Academy scrum half Caolin Blade is included in the senior matchday squad for the first time. The 20-year-old has just completed his first year in the Nigel Carolan-led Academy.
The Monivea man has been involved with Ireland at underage level and this year has put in some impressive performances with the Connacht Eagles.
Jack Dinneen, the 19-year-old sub-Academy hooker, gets a spot on the bench once again after earning his first senior cap against Munster at the Sportsground last month.
Meanwhile, the Ospreys management have made just two changes to the team that suffered a shock 30-27 defeat away to Zebre in the previous round. That result means they cannot reach the play-offs.
There is one alteration to the backs division with Jeff Hassler, their league top try scorer with seven touchdowns, replacing the benched Aisea Natoga on the left wing.
Sam Lewis comes in for ankle injury victim James King at blindside flanker. King is one of 12 players on the Welsh region’s injury list at present.
OSPREYS: Sam Davies; Hanno Dirksen, Ashley Beck, Andrew Bishop, Jeff Hassler; Dan Biggar, Tom Habberfield; Nicky Smith, Scott Baldwin, Aaron Jarvis, Alun Wyn Jones (capt), Ian Evans, Sam Lewis, Justin Tipuric, Dan Baker.
Replacements: Scott Otten, Marc Thomas, Adam Jones, Tyler Ardron, Joe Bearman, Tito Tebaldi, Jonathan Spratt, Aisea Natoga.
CONNACHT: Darragh Leader; Danie Poolman, Eoin Griffin, David McSharry, Matt Healy; Miah Nikora, Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, David Heffernan, Ronan Loughney, Aly Muldowney, Michael Kearney, Andrew Browne, Conor Gilsenan, John Muldoon (capt).
Replacements: Jack Dinneen, Finlay Bealham, Rodney Ah You, Michael Swift, Eoin McKeon, Caolin Blade, Dan Parks, Robbie Henshaw.
Referee: Andrew McMenemy (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: tbc
Television Match Official: tbc
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ospreys to win: 1/20; Draw: 35/1; Connacht to win: 8/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Pat Lam (Connacht) – “The Ospreys will of course be hurting from the fact that they didn’t make the play-offs after a very good season. With the defeat to Zebre last week, they will want to finish off their season with a good win in front of their home fans.
“Playing them in their back yard has always been a challenge for us. We haven’t won over there in ten years. No one will give us a chance but it’s up to us to change the record.
“We spoke this week about not seeing this as just our last game. It is another time we pull on the Connacht jersey with pride and a huge opportunity to improve ourselves and finish the season as high up as we can.”
Steve Tandy (Ospreys) – “It’s extremely disappointing that we go into Saturday’s game unable to finish in the top four, but that doesn’t mean that there is nothing to play for.
“It’s important that we prepare for the match with the right attitude and target a positive finish to the season in front of our supporters who have been excellent all year again.
“This is a young group of players and for many of them, they wouldn’t have felt disappointment like they did last weekend, but it is all part of the development process and they will learn from this.
“It’s been a difficult year, a transition period, but we will be in a stronger place for the experience.
“With some real prospects coming through the ranks who have benefited from their involvement this season and the additions we have made for next year, I’m genuinely excited about what we can do.”
Top Scorers – 2013/14 RaboDirect PRO12: Ospreys – Points: Dan Biggar 204; Tries: Jeff Hassler 7; Connacht – Points: Dan Parks 101; Tries: Kieran Marmion, Fionn Carr, Matt Healy 5 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Saturday, September 28, 2013 – Connacht 26 Ospreys 43, the Sportsground
– The Ospreys cannot make the RaboDirect PRO12 play-offs but have qualified for next season’s European Rugby Champions Cup, finishing in fifth place for the second year in succession
– The Ospreys have lost just one of their last five home games in all competitions: 25-11 to Munster in the PRO12 at Liberty Stadium on February 23
– A victory could see Connacht equal their best ever finish in the PRO12 (eighth place in both 2011/12 and 2012/13)
– Connacht have lost their last four matches since beating the Newport Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade in round 17
– Connacht have won just one of their last eleven fixtures with the Ospreys (22-10 in Galway in February 2013) and have not beaten Ospreys on their own soil since a visit to the Gnoll in November 2004