Preview: Connacht v Ospreys

Date published: February 26 2016

Connacht head coach Pat Lam has made four changes to the his starting line-up for Saturday's PRO12 clash with the Ospreys in Galway.

Caolin Blade and Rodney Ah You are both named to start while Ireland squad members Kieran Marmion and Finlay Bealham were released to join up with Connacht on Thursday and so take their places on the bench.

George Naoupu is another change to the pack, starting with Aly Muldowney in the second row while Academy player Sean O'Brien comes in to start at openside flanker, shifting his fellow Galway-born team mate and captain John Muldoon to number eight in the absence of injured duo Eoghan Masterson and Eoin McKeon. 

James Connolly is named among the replacements as back row cover.

Commenting on the team announcement and the upcoming game,Lam said: "Although we're playing at home, we are under no illusions as to the quality of the team we're playing and the challenge we face.

"We respect what Ospreys have done as a team. They have won this competition on two occasions already and have consistently been in the top four over the years with quality squad depth. 

"They're certainly in form, having lost just one game in their last nine and we know they will be hungry to continue their climb up the table.

"For us, there was a big focus in training on tidying up the areas that let us down against Zebre last week and this should go a long way in ensuring an improvement in our overall performance to get the points on offer in front of our supporters at home."

Meanwhile, Ospreys Head Coach, Steve Tandy has made six changes to his side.

Josh Matavesi returns to inside centre where he replaces Owen Watkin and Rhys Webb takes over from Brendon Leonard in the only changes to he back-line which started in the victory over Edinburgh last weekend.

Up front, there are two changes in the back row with flankers Olly Cracknell and Joe Bearman coming for Sam Underhill and Dan Lydiate, the latter being on Six Nations duty with Wales.

The final changes comes in the front row where Dmitri Arhip and Paul James take over from Dmitri Arhip and Ma’afu Fia as the starting props. James will also captain the side.

"Last week's win over Edinburgh means that we are still well in contention for a Champions Cup spot, but we realise that it was just one battle won and there are seven more to go," said Tandy.

"With the next three games all against teams above us in the league, we know that it's a great opportunity for us to keep climbing the table if we can hit the required performance levels consistently.

"There aren't many tougher places to go in European rugby this

"It's a different kind of challenge to the one we faced last week when we played an Edinburgh team whose success has been built on having one of the tightest defences in the league. Connacht play an attacking brand of rugby and that's reflected in them being the top try scorers and points scorers in the PRO12.

"The increased investment they've had from their union and strong overseas recruitment has allowed them to build a squad that can compete all year round, particularly during international windows, and they've thrived this season. It's going to be a tough evening but we know what we've got to do and what we want from the game.

"This is a crucial period for us, with Leinster away next week and then the Scarlets home. It's exciting and it's what you want to be involved in, games against the best opposition that really matter. 

"This young group have shown a great attitude and they are thriving on the challenge, there's a real energy and positive vibe in the squad and they are really up for it.

"We need to channel that excitement in the right way, make sure that we have the correct focus and attention to detail, and make sure they have a clinical, ruthless attitude. Do that, and we'll be going into these big games with the right attitude.”

Form: Connacht have won their last four first team fixtures with their 51-34 victory at Zebre on Saturday returning them to the top of the Guinness PRO12 table for the first time since November. Connacht's only defeat in their last ten contests at The Sportsground in all competitions came when Ulster were the visitors in the PRO12 on 26 December. Ospreys have lost only one of their last nine Guinness PRO12 encounters: 9-22 at home to Leinster in round 12. The Welsh region have won their last three away games in the PRO12 and have never won four in a row on their travels in the history of the competition. Connacht beat Ospreys 21-16 at Liberty Stadium in round 5 and have only once before achieved a season's double over the Welshmen, in the regions inaugural season in 2003/04. Ospreys have won on six of their last seven visits to Galway.

The teams:

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O'Halloran, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Craig Ronaldson, 11 Matt Healy, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 John Muldoon (c), 7 Jake Heenan, 6  Sean O'Brien, 5 Aly Muldowney, 4 George Naoupu, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Ben Marshall, 20 James Connolly, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Peter Robb, 23 Danie Poolman

Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Jeff Hassler, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Ben John, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Dan Baker, 7 Olly Cracknell, 6 Joe Bearman, 5 Rory Thornton, 4 James King, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Paul James (c)
Replacements: 16 Scott Otten, 17 Gareth Thomas, 18 Aaron Jarvis, 19 Rynier Bernardo, 20 Jordan Collier, 21 Brendon Leonard, 22 Owen Watkin, 23 Eli Walker

Date: Saturday, February 27
Venue: Sportsground
Kick-off: 19:35 GMT
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Andy Brace (Ireland), John Carvill (Ireland)
Television match official: Jude Quinn (Ireland)