Connacht coach Eric Elwood has made seven changes to his line-up for their return to PRO12 action against the Ospreys on Saturday.
Connacht coach Eric Elwood has made seven changes to his line-up for their return to RaboDirect PRO12 action against the Ospreys on Saturday.
Two of those changes are positional with George Naoupu moving from his regular number eight position to lock in place of an injured Mike McCarthy and Robbie Henshaw replacing the injured Eoin Griffin in the outside centre spot.
Mata Fifita replaces Dave McSharry and joins Henshaw in the new centre partnership.
19-year-old Darragh Leader earns his first competitive start for the province at full-back. Leader, who has only recently been signed to the Connacht Academy, impressed as he came off the bench last week with the Connacht Eagles. The young Leader has represented Ireland at U19 level and is currently with the Ireland U20 squad.
Up front, loosehead prop Brett Wilkinson replaces Denis Buckley. Wilkinson is joined in the front-row by tighthead Nathan White, who captains the side, and Jason Harris-Wright who earns his first competitive start of the season. The 24-year-old hooker has made a notable impression from the bench in both RaboDirect PRO12 clashes with Ulster and his former side Leinster. With Naoupu moving forward, Eoin McKeon now wears the eight jersey.
On the bench, former Stormers player Danie Poolman is set to make his first appearance for the province. Rodney Ah You and Dave Gannon also return to the bench as forwards.
“Over the years, we've had huge physical encounters with the Welsh side and we'll be expecting the same this weekend. It's another big challenge but we take great encouragement from our performances of the last few weeks,” said Elwood.
“Last Saturday, we went toe-to-toe with the English champions and competed with them for the 80 minutes. We played some great rugby and we'll be looking to do the same this weekend against the Ospreys.
“We know it's going to be a hugely physical battle but we're very much looking forward to the test. The goal for us is to keep improving and continue on our upward curve.”
Meanwhile the Ospreys have made two changes to their starting side as blindside flanker Joe Bearman and tighthead prop Aaron Jarvis come in for Ryan Jones and Adam Jones.
The backline remains unchanged as the Welsh region look to bounce back from their disappointing Heineken Cup finish against Leicester at Welford Road last weekend.
“Connacht are a very dangerous team, Eric Elwood has taken what was already a tough, physical group and looked to expand their game,” said forwards coach Jonathan Humphreys.
“We know that we are going to have be well prepared, diligent and focused if we are going to get what we want out of this fixture, and it'll need to be a real team effort on and off the field.”
Form: Ospreys, the defending RaboDirect PRO12 champions, have won their last three matches in the competition. The Welshmen have won four of their last five contests against Irish provinces. Connacht's only win in their last four PRO12 fixtures was 34-6 at home to Leinster on 28 September. Connacht have won just one of their last eight matches with Welsh regions: 27-19 at Newport Gwent Dragons on 30 March. Ospreys have won the last eight encounters between the two teams, whilst Connacht's most recent victory on Ospreys soil came on 21 November 2004 at the Gnoll in Neath.
Ospreys: 15 Richard Fussell, 14 Hanno Dirksen, 13 Andrew Bishop, 12 Ashley Beck, 11 Eli Walker, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i, 8 Jonathan Thomas, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Joe Bearman, 5 Ian Evans, 4 Alun Wyn Jones (capt), 3 Aaron Jarvis, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Ryan Bevington.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Dwyer, 17 Duncan Jones, 18 Joe Rees, 19 James King, 20 George Stowers, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Matthew Morgan, 23 Tom Isaacs.
Connacht: 15 Darragh Leader, 14 Tiernan O'Halloran, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Mata Fifita, 11 Fetu'u Vainikolo, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Eoin McKeon, 7 Willie Faloon, 6 John Muldoon, 5 George Naoupu, 4 Michael Swift, 3 Nathan White (capt), 2 Jason Harris-Wright, 1 Brett Wilkinson.
Replacements: 16 Adrian Flavin, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Dave Gannon, 20 Johnny O'Connor, 21 Dave Moore, 22 Miah Nikora, 23 Danie Poolman.
Date: Saturday, October 27
Kick-off: 14:30 BST
Venue: Liberty Stadium
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Neil Hennessy (Wales), Simon Rees (Wales)
Television match official: Nigel Whitehouse (Wales)