A number of key players have made a welcome return to the Connacht squad for tomorrow’s rescheduled Guinness PRO14 clash with Ospreys at The Sportsground (k/o 3.00pm).
 
In all there are seven changes to the side that narrowly lost to Munster last time out, with Andy Friend able to recall captain Jarrad Butler and a number of other experienced players.
 
Butler lines out in a back row which includes Paul Boyle at number 8 and Conor Oliver on the opposite flank. The in-form duo of locks Ultan Dillane and Quinn Roux continue to pair up, while Dave Heffernan comes into the starting XV in a front row that includes Denis Buckley and Finlay Bealham.
 
There’s a new look half-back partnership with Irish international Kieran Marmion named alongside Conor Fitzgerald, while Peter Robb has been handed his first start of the season at number 12 after recovering from a long-term groin issue. John Porch continues at full-back with Alex Wootton and Peter Sullivan on the wings.
 
The bench includes the returning Bundee Aki who has recovered from a knee injury, and Abraham Papali’i following a recent suspension.
 
Commenting on his selected team, Andy Friend says:
 
“It says a lot about the depth we have built here in Connacht that we can make seven changes from an interpro and still field a really strong side. A number of players are getting their first starts in a month so will be eager to impress, and with the likes of Bundee and Abraham on the bench we’ll have some physicality to call on when needed.”
 
Regarding the fixture itself, Friend added:
 
“I’ve spoken this week about the importance of bringing the same energy for every game, regardless of whether it’s an interpro fixture or not. We’ll put that to the test tomorrow, and after a few disappointing results at home we’re really keen to get back to winning ways here.”
 
CONNACHT RUGBY SQUAD VS OSPREYS
Sunday 24th January, 3pm, The Sportsground
 
Number/Name/Caps
15. John Porch (29)
14. Peter Sullivan (7)
13. Tom Daly (36)
12. Peter Robb (45)
11. Alex Wootton (11)
10. Conor Fitzgerald (28)
9. Kieran Marmion (174)
1. Denis Buckley (190)
2. Dave Heffernan (136)
3. Finlay Bealham (148)
4. Ultan Dillane (106)
5. Quinn Roux (106)
6. Jarrad Butler (65) (c)
7. Conor Oliver (12)
8. Paul Boyle (48)

16. Shane Delahunt (88)
17. Matthew Burke (18)
18. Conor Kenny (9)
19. Gavin Thornbury (48)
20. Abraham Papali’i (4)
21. Caolin Blade (120)
22. Bundee Aki (105)
23. Matt Healy (142)

NOTE: This week’s round of PCR testing returning 0 positive results from the Professional squad and management.

Connacht’s home Guinness PRO14 tie with Ospreys has been rescheduled for Sunday 24th January (k/o 3pm).

The game was due to be played on the weekend of the 13th February, but due to the postponement of the Heineken Champions Cup pool games, it has been brought forward given the availability in the calendar.

There will be live coverage on TG4 and Premier Sports with deferred coverage on eir Sport.

The Round 8 Guinness PRO14 fixture between Connacht and Ospreys has been postponed.
 
The game was due to take place on Saturday, November 28 in Galway, however, one Ospreys player has returned a positive case of Covid-19 and others identified as close contacts are now isolating. Having considered all the available evidence, the PRO14 Rugby Medical Advisory Group has deemed that this fixture cannot go ahead.
 
Benetton Rugby, who played against Ospreys on Sunday, carried out routine squad testing this week and returned negative results all round.
 
PRO14 Rugby will examine potential dates in early 2021 to reschedule the game.
 
Everyone at Connacht wishes the Ospreys player a speedy recovery and we look forward to welcoming them to The Sportsground early next year.

Paul Boyle will lead out Connacht as captain for the first time on Saturday after he was named as skipper for the Guinness PRO14 clash with Ospreys at The Sportsground (k/o 7.35pm).
 
The 23 year old has enjoyed a brilliant rise through the Connacht ranks, making his debut as a Year 1 Academy player against Munster in January 2018. He was then rewarded with his first professional contract midway through the 2018/19 season and has gone on to play 44 times for the province.
 
Boyle captains the side from the number 8 position and will be flanked by Sean O’Brien and Conor Oliver at the back of the scrum.
 
The front five is unchanged from the side that defeat Zebre last Sunday, with Shane Delahunt starting at hooker alongside props Denis Buckley and Jack Aungier, and Eoghan Masterson pairing up with Gavin Thornbury in the second row.
 
At half-back Ballinasloe native Colm Reilly continues at scrum-half, while Conor Fitzgerald comes in for his second start of the season at out-half. The in-form Tom Daly remains at inside-centre with Sammy Arnold alongside him, and Peter Sullivan returns to the starting XV in a back three which features Alex Wootton on the opposite wing and John Porch at full-back.
 
Meanwhile Academy player Sean O’Brien is in line to make his professional debut. The centre has been named among the replacements and could feature for the province for the first time if called upon.
 
Commenting on his team selection, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
“Paul Boyle is a natural born leader and fully deserves the opportunity to lead out the squad for the first time. He’s been in tremendous form for us again this season and I’d like to congratulate him on the honour. We’ve also got Academy player Sean O’Brien potentially making his debut so it’s a big day for him too if called upon.”
 
Regarding the game itself, Friend added:
“It was really pleasing to see us bounce back like we did in Zebre, but now the focus is on backing that up with a similar display again this week. Ospreys are a very good side who have come on a lot since last season, so it’s crucial we get a good start and build from there.”
 
CONNACHT MATCHDAY 23 VS OSPREYS RUGBY
Saturday 28th November, The Sportsground, Kick-Off 7.35pm

Number/Name/Caps (* denotes uncapped)
15. John Porch (23)
14. Peter Sullivan (4)
13. Sammy Arnold (6)
12. Tom Daly (30)
11. Alex Wootton (6)
10. Conor Fitzgerald (27)
9. Colm Reilly (3)
1. Denis Buckley (184)
2. Shane Delahunt (82)
3. Jack Aungier (6)
4. Eoghan Masterson (96)
5. Gavin Thornbury (44)
6. Sean O’Brien (58)
7. Conor Oliver (6)
8. Paul Boyle (C) (44)

Replacements
16. Jonny Murphy (9)
17. Paddy McAllister (14)
18. Dominic Robertson-McCoy (56)
19. Cian Prendergast (1)
20. Jarrad Butler (61)
21. Stephen Kerins (11)
22. Sean O’Brien (Acad) *
23. Colm de Buitlear (5)

By John O’Sullivan 

 

Head coach Andy Friend says that Connacht will need to start well in Saturday’s 19:35 GuinnessPRO14 kick-off against the Ospreys at the Sportsground.

 

In the Westerner’s previous games, a loss at home to Scarlets and a win away to Zebre last weekend, Connacht conceded tries early and saw their opponents open the scoring. 

 

But Friend says his team will need to start better and play in the right areas of the field — taking into consideration any weather conditions —  against a dangerous Ospreys side if they want to make it consecutive league wins. 

 

“What’s really important to us is the start,” the Australian said. 

 

“If we can start well and build on the confidence we took from that Zebre win, that will be really important to us. It’s also really important that we execute. We made 23 errors in the Scarlets game, that got down to ten at the weekend, which is where it needs to be. What we need to be able to do(not commit many errors), and let’s just assume, living in Galway, that there might be some wind and rain. 

 

“If it is doing that(raining), we just have to be more clinical with the way we’re handling the ball. We got to make sure to continue that we get the line speed in our defensive line, with our launch. We have got to make sure we play in the right areas and I think those three things we were much, much better on at the weekend than we were previously. We have got to make sure we keep that up here at the Sportsground,”

 

Friend praised his players for playing “smart” Rugby in last weekend’s 47-12 win in Italy, and he says that Connacht will need to play in the same vein on Saturday night, especially against the visitors exciting back three options. 

 

“Continuing to play that smart kicking game is going to be important to us,” the former Australia Sevens coach said. 

 

“We need to play in the right areas and we need to get off the line and shut them down. If you could give me gold, silver and bronze, the gold would be the way we start, which is really important for us.

 

Elsewhere, loosehead prop Denis Buckley paid tribute to the quality of young players coming through Connacht’s academy. Colm Reilly, a former Connacht academy player, was awarded the man of the match award in the Zebre victory in only his second start.

 

Buckley, a former academy graduate himself, said that Reilly’s performance — given the senior players had seen him in training — wasn’t a surprise and that the Westerners have several players that could follow the Ballinasloe scrum-halves path in the years to come.

 

“We’ve seen him in training for the last while, so it’s not really a surprise to us seeing him perform. It was only his second start, so to get a man of the match was pretty special for him. It wasn’t a surprise for us because we see him do it in training every week. He’s a really good talent and it will be exciting to see how he develops over the next while,” the Roscommon native said. 

 

“There is a lot of young lads coming through. Cian Prendergast is another and he’s played this year. I think he’s another one we’ll see more of as we go on. There is some really exciting young lads coming through and it is great to see.”

 

Meanwhile, Buckley, 30, praised the culture and positive environment Andy Friend and his coaches have built at Connacht and its impact on helping players reach their full potential. 

 

“Yeah, 100%,” Buckley said when asked whether the team culture helped players fulfill their abilities. 

 

“Obviously it’s pretty difficult at the moment with a lot of limits around team meetings. It’s all through Zoom and there’s a lot of rules about whether we can be indoors together, particularly in the last six weeks as we have gone into lockdown. 

 

“But they’ve found ways to keep the culture and keep that team spirit going and it’s coming through in games. I think since the summer, when we came back and played those rearranged fixtures against Ulster, and this season we definitely have taken a step up. We didn’t get that consistency against the Scarlets, but if you take that game out of it then we have had some really good games. 

 

“The Glasgow win, the Edinburgh away win, they’re really good results that we don’t always get. We’ve had a really good start to the season and how the coaching staff have approached the restrictions with covid and with all the limitations that are around, and how we have made the best of all those situations and tried to turn them into advantages. If you can adapt the best to them, it can give you an advantage and I think we’re doing that very well at the moment,” Buckley said.

Check out all the highlights from Saturday’s impressive 46-5 win over the Ospreys at a windy Sportsground – a result that has sent Andy Friend’s side back into the playoff spots with just four games to play.
 

There were plenty of happy faces in the dressing room as Connacht came away with a six-try victory over conference rivals Ospreys in the Guinness PRO14.
 
The bonus point win has sent Andy Friend’s side back into the playoff spots with just four games left in the season.
 
Check out some of the best pics from the dressing room after yesterday’s impressive victory.
 

Match Report courtesy of pro14.org
 
Kieran Marmion’s double inspired a huge win as Connacht maintained their formidable home record with a 46-5 victory over Ospreys in a one-sided Guinness PRO14 tie. Keen to bounce back from the loss to Glasgow last week, Connacht bossed the early exchanges, with Tom Farrell crossing early before two penalties from the excellent Kyle Godwin extended the lead.
 
Matthew Aubrey hit back against the run of play before Matt Healy, Marmion and a penalty try restored Connacht’s dominance. Marmion crossed again before Tom McCartney scored in a comfortable second half as the result was all but decided by Connacht’s early blitz.
 
Connacht flew out of the gates with a slick move to score their first through Farrell as a series of swift handoffs early on allowed the centre to cross the line in acres of space.They continued to pile on the pressure early doors as they showed intensity with every drive to pin their opponents in their own 22.
 
Ospreys appeared to have repelled the pressure but gave away a needless penalty which Godwin dispatched with ease.
 
The out-half converted again as Connacht looked to be firmly in control, but Ospreys’ Olly Cracknell charged down a drop kick and the ball fell for Aubrey to score out wide against the run of play.
 
Godwin appeared to continue his blinder of a first half as he latched onto an opposition kick to storm past four defenders and cross the line. But protests from the Welsh side over an off-the-ball block bore fruit as the try was ruled out and Ospreys’ remained well in it.
 
Godwin and Farrell set up Healy for Connacht’s second try with two incisive passes and the winger crossed between the posts to tee up an easy conversion for Godwin. Marmion was then the beneficiary of a powerful team effort as Connacht drove a maul over the line on the half–hour mark.
 
Ospreys had chances to reduce the deficit before half time but two crucial interceptions saw the ball up the other end of the pitch, where Connacht were awarded a penalty try after a deliberate knock-on from Keelan Giles.
 
The Welsh side’s ill-discipline continued after the break as Jordan Lay received a yellow to give Connacht a two-man advantage.
 
Ospreys rallied well to gain some territory, but Marmion put any notion of a comeback out of sight as he was set up by Jarrad Butler to score between the posts.
 
With the victory secured, Connacht rung in the changes, but Ospreys failed to convert their increased possession into points. Instead, McCartney further embellished the score line as he drove over powerfully following a scrum.

It’s arguably the biggest game of the season so far for both Connacht and Ospreys when they go head to head in the Guinness PRO14 tomorrow.
 
The game is a meeting of two sides battling it out for a playoff spot in Conference A, and with just five games to go every point is crucial in the quest for Heineken Champions Cup rugby next season.
 
Here’s all you need to know about the tie.
 
When’s the game?
Kick-off is on Saturday 2nd March at the earlier time of 2.45pm at The Sportsground.
 
How can I watch it?
The game will be shown live on TG4 with coverage beginning at 2.25pm. In the UK the game will be on Premier Sports.
 
How’s our recent record against them?
The two sides last met at the end of October when the Ospreys withstood a late Connacht fightback to win 22-17 in Bridgend. However it was Connacht that came out on top at the last Sportsground meeting when tries from Eoghan Masterson and Tom Farrell gave us the win 26-15 just over 12 months ago.
 

How will the two teams line up?
Connacht have been boosted by the return of four players from international duty while there’s also a first start of the season for Peter Robb at inside centre. Meanwhile Ospreys have made one change to the side that lost to Munster last weekend with James Hook coming in for Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler.
 


Where can I buy tickets?
Tickets are still available in certain areas and can be purchased online HERE
 

Ahead of tomorrow’s vital Guinness PRO14 clash with the Ospreys, Andy Friend and Eoin McKeon spoke to the media at this week’s pre-match press conference.
 
The pair spoke about moving on from the loss to Glasgow, the challenge facing them at The Sportsground on Saturday, and the importance of the fans as we head into a crucial period of the season.
 

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