Off the back of a victory over Ulster, Ospreys come to Galway full of confidence.
Starting XV: 15 Robbie Henshaw, 14 Tiernan O'Halloran, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Kyle Tonetti, 11 Danie Poolman, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Kieran Marmion
1 Brett Wilkinson, 2 Jason Harris-Wright, 3 Nathan White (C), 4 Michael Swift, 5 Mick Kearney, 6 John Muldoon, 7 Willie Faloon, 8 Eoin McKeown
Replacements: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 17 Rodney Ah You, 18 Ronan Loughney, 19 Andrew Browne, 20 Johnny O'Connor, 21 Paul O’Donohoe, 22 Miah Nikora, 23 Gavin Duffy
Starting XV: 15 Richard Fussell, 14 Tom Habberfield, 13 Tom Isaacs, 12 Jonathan Spratt, 11 Ben John, 10 Matthew Morgan, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i
1 Duncan Jones, 2 Scott Baldwin, 3 Cai Griffiths, 4 Alun Wyn Jones (C), 5 James King, 6 Joe Bearman, 7 Sam Lewis, 8 Morgan Allen
Replacements: 16 Matthew Dwyer, 17 Marc Thomas, 18 Dmitri Arhip, 19 Lloyd Peers, 20 Jonathan Thomas, 21 Arthur Ellis/Sam Davies, 22 Rhys Webb, 23 Ross Jones
Connacht lie in 12th position in the league ahead of only Dragons and Zebre. In their last three games Connacht have lost away to Scarlets and Harlequins, and scraped a home win against a team yet to record a victory in the competition. Osprey's on the other hand are in fourth position, with over twice the points haul of Connacht (43 vs 20). They are also coming off the back of a superb away victory against current table leaders Ulster, beating them by 4 points in Ravenhill.
The Osprey side that lines out today is hugely changed from the side which beat Connacht 26-9 at the Liberty Stadium in October, with only four starters from that day starting (Fussell, Fotuali'i, AW Jones, and Bearman). The main reason for this seemingly fortuitous turn of events is that 10 of their starting team are unavailable for selection due to international commitments. However this is the team that inflicted Ulster with only their second defeat of the season last week (bar D Jones in for Bevington). They still have the extremely tricksy Fussell at full back, their starting scrum-half, their captain and Bearman on the pitch as well to add experience, with Alun Wyn Jones starting this week.
Their head coach, Steve Tandy, had this to day during the week:
Without concentrating solely on Connacht Steve Tandy has given a good impression of the Osprey approach to the match, and it seems that their mindset is that if they show up and put in a professional shift they will be in front of their supporters with a win behind them. Is that a fair assumption? Partially. That outcome will also require Connacht to under-perform and deliver an unprofessional display.
Connacht are welcoming back center Kyle Tonnetti from injury, whose display against Scarlets last week is given as the reason for him gaining a starting spot this week. Outside him is the injury prone Galway man Eoin Griffin and cover on the bench comes in the unlikely form of Gavin Duffy. However should a center need to be replaced it is likely that our Southern import Danie Poolman, who starts on the wing this week, will come in and Duffy will go to the wing. The backline is completed by Henshaw and O'Halloran, who need to have their game heads tightly screwed on to ensure that the aforementioned Fussell does not wreak his usual havoc.
The half back pairing our familiar one, but Marmion will need to keep a careful eye on his opposite number. Parks will need again to push himself to take advantage of the pace and bravery of the youths outside him. If he can effectively bring them into the game then we can really push against a relatively inexperienced Osprey's line.
The pack is not lacking experience with Faloon, Muldoon, Swift, Wilko and captain White, but there will have been a significant drop in KGs given that Macca and George are replaced by McKeown and Kearney. The scrums will need to be disciplined and a couple of 8-man shoves will be required early on until the ref has formed his opinions. The two younger forwards do offer dynamism, and a couple of lineout options, and hopefully our other relative youngster JHW will be able to find his men regularly and if so that could be a great platform.
Connacht need more than anything else tonight to play the referee and adapt to his vision of the match. The Scarlets' fans were this week conceding that Connacht were the team playing more rugby in Wales, but that they really shot themselves in the foot with indiscipline. Owen Williams kicked 20 points that night, from one conversion and six penalties. In stunning contrast, all of Connacht's points came from open play (conversion aside). Poor discipline will kill Connacht's chance if they let it.