Preview: Connacht v Ospreys

Date published: May 15 2015

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Connacht head coach Pat Lam has made three personnel changes to his side ahead of their PRO12 clash at home with league leaders the Ospreys.

Scrum-half Kieran Marmion starts in a backline that also sees Connacht centurion and record try scorer Fionn Carr named on the right wing.

Up front, Galway man Andrew Browne is promoted from the bench to join Aly Muldowney in the second-row.

John Muldoon, who has started all 22 PRO12 fixtures this season, will once again captain the side from a back-row with Eoghan Masterson and Eoin McKeon.

The most notable inclusion on the bench is Connacht's most capped player of all time Michael Swift, who has worked his way back from injury to take his place amongst the replacements for what could be his last home game before he retires. The 37-year-old, who has played 263 times for the province, is also joined on the bench by Miah Nikora and Shane O'Leary.

"This is probably the most experienced team that we can put out and that will be vital against Ospreys," said Lam.

"No man has more experience than Michael Swift. He has worked extremely hard the last few months to get himself back to this position and the preparation, detail and intensity he showed in training this week demonstrated how deserved his inclusion is in the match day squad.

"We all know the enormity of this game. Since pre-season, we have set our sights on a top six finish and to be going into round 22 with our ultimate goal still a possibility is very exciting. It's uncharted waters for Connacht Rugby to have so much to play for at this stage of the season and we're really relishing it."

Meanwhile, the Ospreys will be looking for a performance that keeps them top of the standings when the full-time whistle blows in Galway.

They have a 26 points difference cushion over Glasgow at the summit, but with the Scots facing an under-strength Ulster that could reduce.

Ospreys head coach Steve Tandy, however, is confident his men can get over the finish line to book not only a home semi-final but also top spot.

"It was a good win at the Liberty last weekend to ensure that we go into the final day in first place, knowing that we have control of our own destiny," he said. 

"We aren't reliant on others to do a job for us and that's all you can ask for at this time of the season. That said, we know that we have a very tough 80 minutes ahead of us on Saturday against a very good team who have their own prize to play for. If we aren't at our best, we are well aware that we'll be in trouble.

"Preparation this week has been no different to any other. The boys have been focused on the job in hand and know that if they are accurate, clinical in what they do and know their role properly, then that will allow us to build a performance to the level we need. It's a good mental test for a young squad of players, ensuring the right habits and routines, allowing them to focus on performance."

Form: It's likely that Connacht will have to win to keep alive their hopes of participating in the European top tier competition next season. Their 40-10 victory over Zebre in Parma in round 21 earned the only bonus point of that entire round and stemmed a four game losing run in the Guinness PRO12. As it stands Ospreys require a bonus point victory to guarantee themselves home field advantage in the play-offs. The Welshmen are the form team in the competition having dropped only five possible league points from their last six encounters since being defeated 16-19 in Glasgow in round 15. Connacht's only victory over Ospreys in their last 13 fixtures since 2008 was 22-10 in Galway in February 2013, whilst the only occasion that the Irishmen have ever tallied a try bonus point against the Welsh region was on their very first meeting at St Helen's, Swansea in October 2003.

The teams:

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O'Halloran, 14 Fionn Carr, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Eoin McKeon, 7 Eoghan Masterson, 6 John Muldoon (c), 5 Aly Muldowney, 4 Andrew Browne, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 JP Cooney, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Michael Swift, 20 George Naoupu, 21 John Cooney, 22 Miah Nikora, 23 Shane O'Leary.

Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Hanno Dirksen, 13 Ben John, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Eli Walker, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Dan Baker, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 James King, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Tyler Ardron, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Sam Parry, 17 Marc Thomas, 18 Aaron Jarvis, 19 Rory Thornton, 20 Dan Lydiate, 21 Tom Habberfield, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Jonathan Spratt.

Date: Saturday, May 16
Kick-off: 15:00 BST
Venue: The Sportsground
Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR, 41st competition game)
Assistant Referees: Andy Brace, Nigel Correll (both IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: Tim Lowry (IRFU)
TMO: Seamus Flannery (IRFU)

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