Preview: Connacht v Ospreys

Date published: September 9 2016

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Connacht have made four changes to the side that started at the Sportsground last weekend for this Saturday's PRO12 clash with the Ospreys.

Ireland internationals Tiernan O'Halloran and Kieran Marmion come into the backline with the Galway-born full-back making his first appearance for Connacht since his Ireland debut in South Africa three months ago.

Ronan Loughney packs down in the front-row while Academy graduate James Connolly starts alongside Eoin McKeon and captain John Muldoon in the back-row.

Forwards Dominic Robertson-McCoy and Rory Moloney are both in line to make their Connacht debuts from the bench while Danie Poolman is included among the replacement backs.

"Following a few injuries and knocks from last week, we've obviously made some changes to the starting team for tomorrow. With Caolin (Blade) and Cian (Kelleher) unable to train fully all week, it's fortunate that we're able to bring in the experience of Connacht centurions Kieran (Marmion) and Tiernan (O'Halloran)," said head coach Pat Lam.

"Ospreys will be another big challenge for us and will come here determined and confident after their impressive win over Zebre in round 1. It's been a tough week with a lot of honesty and learnings for us as a team. I have no doubt that with another game under our belt, we will see a big improvement tomorrow."

Meanwhile, Wales international lock Bradley Davies will make his first start for the Ospreys on Saturday.

Ashley Beck, Brendon Leonard, Dan Lydiate, Scott Otten, Daniel Suter, Sam Underhill and Owen Watkin are out due to injury while Adam Beard is suspended.

Sam Davies will continue at fly-half in the absence of Dan Biggar and is joined in the half-backs by scrum-half Rhys Webb, who captains from the base.

"We made a promising start last weekend but that's all it is, a start. It was good to see the positive intent, we showed the right attitude, and were pretty relentless, not only in the way we killed the game off very early, but keeping going for the 80 minutes, creating and taking opportunities," said head coach Steve Tandy.

"It's probably the best way to start the season though, picking up a bonus point while knowing that it was far from perfect as a performance and we've got plenty to work on. The boys have recognised that, they understand there's some way to go yet in terms of reaching the standard we need.

"We have to keep working hard, trying to improve in all aspects of our game, but last Friday means we are heading the right direction. That said, we know how difficult it is going to be on Saturday night and we've got to be accurate in everything we do."

Tandy added: "Connacht are champions for a reason. They have good players, are a well-coached unit, and everybody knows that the Sportsground is a tough, challenging environment. It's hostile, the crowd is on top of you, and the weather conditions, which they know so well, always plays a part. Last weekend's result against Glasgow wasn't an accurate reflection of how Connacht played, I thought they were particularly good in the first half, and what it means is they will be more fired up than ever on Saturday night.

"With three of the next four games out in Ireland, we know it's a tough period for us, but we see it as a real opportunity to test ourselves and are looking forward to kicking it off in Galway."

Form: Connacht were defeated in round 1 by Glasgow Warriors at the Sportsground – the only previous Guinness PRO12 Champions to have begun their defence with a pair of defeats was Ospreys in both 2007/08 and 2012/13. Connacht have not lost successive matches in Galway since the end of the 2014/15 season. Ospreys have lost just one of their last five Guinness PRO12 fixtures: 26-46 at home to Ulster in round 22 last season. During the last campaign Ospreys won just one of their eight encounters with Irish provinces: 21-17 against Munster in Cork. Connacht achieved the season’s double over Ospreys last year for the first time since 2003/04. Ospreys overall record at the Sportsground is won eight, lost five.

The teams:

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O'Halloran, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon (c), 7 James Connolly, 6 Eoin McKeon, 5 Danny Qualter, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Ronan Loughney
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 18 JP Cooney, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Rory Moloney, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Shane O'Leary, 23 Danie Poolman

Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Jeff Hassler, 13 Ben John, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Eli Walker, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Rhys Webb (c), 8 Tyler Ardron, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Olly Cracknell, 5 Rory Thornton, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Nicky Smith
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Paul James, 18 Ma'afu Fia, 19 Lloyd Ashley, 20 James King, 21 Dan Baker, 22 Tom Habberfield, 23 Dafydd Howells

Date: Saturday, September 10
Venue: Sportsground
Kick-off: 19:35 BST (18:35 GMT)
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Claudio Blessano (Italy), Leo Colgan
TMO: Alan Falzone (Italy)

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