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RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Ospreys v Connacht

RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Ospreys v Connacht

Connacht will test out a new-look centre pairing of Athlone youngster Robbie Henshaw and Tongan powerhouse Mata Fifita when they tackle RaboDirect PRO12 title holders, the Ospreys, in Swansea.

RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, October 27

OSPREYS (6th) v CONNACHT (10th), Liberty Stadium, 2.30pm

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Team News: As Connacht prepare to play reigning champions, the Ospreys, in the RaboDirect PRO12, head coach Eric Elwood has named a team that shows seven changes to the one that started last weekend against Harlequins.

Two of those changes are positional with George Naoupu moving from his regular number 8 position to the second row in place of the injured Mike McCarthy. With Eoin Griffin also sidelined by injury, Robbie Henshaw shifts to outside centre.

Mata Fifita comes straight in for David McSharry, Connacht’s try scorer against Harlequins, and joins Henshaw in an exciting new centre partnership.

Darragh Leader will make his first competitive start for the province at full-back, filling in for the versatile Henshaw.

The 19-year-old Leader, who has only recently been signed to the Connacht Academy, impressed as he came off the bench last weekend for the Connacht Eagles in Athlone. He represented Ireland at Under-19 level last season.

Up front, loosehead prop Brett Wilkinson replaces Denis Buckley. Wilkinson is joined in the front row by tighthead Nathan White, who continues as team captain, and Jason Harris-Wright who earns his first competitive start of the season.

The 24-year-old Harris-Wright has made a notable impression from the bench in both RaboDirect PRO12 clashes with Ulster and his native Leinster. With Naoupu moving forward, Eoin McKeon will done the number 8 jersey.

On the bench, former Stormers player Danie Poolman is set to make his first appearance for the province. Rodney Ah You and David Gannon also return to the bench as replacement forwards.

Meanwhile, prop Aaron Jarvis, the only uncapped player in the Wales squad for their autumn Tests, will start for the Ospreys against Elwood’s side.

The 26-year-old will take up the tighthead spot vacated by knee injury victim Adam Jones, who is doubtful for Wales’ clash with Argentina in two weeks’ time.

The only other change to the Ospreys team that lost to Leicester Tigers in European last weekend sees Joe Bearman come in for Ryan Jones (dead leg) in the back row.

OSPREYS: Richard Fussell; Hanno Dirksen, Andrew Bishop, Ashley Beck, Eli Walker; Dan Biggar, Kahn Fotuali’i; Ryan Bevington, Richard Hibbard, Aaron Jarvis, Alun Wyn Jones (capt), Ian Evans, Joe Bearman, Justin Tipuric, Jonathan Thomas.

Replacements: Matthew Dwyer, Duncan Jones, Joe Rees, James King, George Stowers, Rhys Webb, Matthew Morgan, Tom Isaacs.

CONNACHT: Darragh Leader; Tiernan O’Halloran, Robbie Henshaw, Mata Fifita, Fetu’u Vainikolo; Dan Parks, Kieran Marmion; Brett Wilkinson, Jason Harris-Wright, Nathan White (capt), Michael Swift, George Naoupu, John Muldoon, Willie Faloon, Eoin McKeon.

Replacements: Adrian Flavin, Ronan Loughney, Rodney Ah You, David Gannon, Johnny O’Connor, David Moore, Miah Nikora, Danie Poolman.

Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Simon Rees, tbc (both Wales)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ospreys to win: 1/18; Draw: 33/1; Connacht to win: 8/1

Pre-Match Quotes: Eric Elwood (Connacht) – “We have had a big two weeks in Europe and it’s nice to be back in the PROO12, but it’s not going to be an easy one for us,” he told the Galway Advertiser.

“Over the last couple of years and last year in particular we have done our business there well, but with nine games on the bounce, it’s another big challenge for us. Hopefully we will patch people up and be ready to go again on Saturday.

“The good work has been done over the last two weeks, but although we are not getting carried away because we lost (to Harlequins), we are taking the positives.

“We know we have to get better in our defence, and it is the players who are saying we do not want to lose the intensity and the upward curve we are on.

“We went toe-to-toe with the English champions at home and that’s what we wanted to do last weekend – put on a good show, compete for the 80 minutes.

“We played some good rugby when we had the ball. We are looking to do that against the Ospreys, once we match them in their physicality because they will bring that to the party in spades.”

Jonathan Humphreys (Ospreys) – “Connacht are a very dangerous team, Eric Elwood has taken what was already a tough, physical group and looked to expand their game.

“We know that we are going to have be well prepared, diligent and focused if we are going to get what we want out of this fixture, and it’ll need to be a real team effort on and off the field.

“I genuinely believe that it’s this time of the year where we’ve won some of our previous league titles, where boys have stepped in and stood up, many of them youngsters who have taken their chance and never looked back.

“You can list people like Hanno, Tips, Bevington, Beck, even go as far as people like Bishop, Alun Wyn and Ian Evans, they’ve all got their chance in the international break and never looked back. It’s an opportunity for players in the group and for supporters to see who is next on the block for us.”

Top Scorers – 2012/13 RaboDirect PRO12: Ospreys – Points: Dan Biggar 63; Tries: Hanno Dirksen, Richard Fussell 2 each; Connacht – Points: Miah Nikora 32; Tries: George Naoupu, Tiernan O’Halloran 2 each


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
Saturday, November 26, 2011 – Connacht 6 Ospreys 17, the Sportsground


– The Ospreys, the defending RaboDirect PRO12 champions, have won their last three matches in the competition

– The Welshmen have won four of their last five contests against Irish provinces

– Connacht’s only win in their last four PRO12 fixtures was a 34-6 triumph at home to Leinster on September 28

– Connacht have won just one of their last eight matches against Welsh regions, 27-19 at the Newport Gwent Dragons last March

– The Ospreys have won the last eight encounters between the two teams, while Connacht’s most recent victory on Ospreys soil came in November 2004 at the Gnoll in Neath