Preview: Ospreys v Connacht

Date published: January 6 2017

Hanno Dirksen will make his 100th appearance for Ospreys when they host Connacht at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday.

"We looked at this run of three PRO12 games as an important block of fixtures and with two wins in the first two of them, we've got to be happy with where are going into this weekend," head coach Steve Tandy said.

"It wasn't necessarily pretty at times over Christmas but we were professional in everything we did and, particularly at the Dragons, played the conditions extremely well. It was good to show that we can win ugly as well as going out there and moving the ball around as we have done at times this season.

"It'll be another tough one on Saturday. Connacht are always combative up front and they play a good brand of rugby, they are very dangerous opposition. We know that we are in for another test so have to prepare thoroughly for this one, and will have to step up a level or two again. We had great support against the Scarlets, the boys really appreciated playing in front of such a big crowd at home. If we keep working hard and continue what we've been doing this season, hopefully we can get the backing from our supporters that we want, playing their part.

"The PRO12 breaks for a month after this weekend so it's important we make a statement, keep the momentum going, and ensure we are in a good place. When you look at the run-in, after last season's champions at home this weekend, we've got some big games coming up at the Liberty so we know there's a huge amount of work to be done, but we are in a good place and are up for the challenge. The focus has to be on Saturday afternoon, first and foremost, and then we'll look ahead, one game at a time."

Meanwhile, Connacht head coach Pat Lam has made three changes to his side for the clash.

With Kieran Marmion rested this week, scrum-half John Cooney makes a timely return from injury to start in an otherwise unchanged backline.

Up front, the back row is changed with the introduction of Sean O'Brien at blindside flanker and Naulia Dawai at number eight for his first Connacht start.

Tom McCartney will captain the side in the absence of John Muldoon who had, up to now, started every game this season but was ruled out this week with a hamstring injury.

From the bench, Galway man Eoin McKeon is in line to make his 100th Connacht appearance if he is called upon in Wales.

Commenting on the upcoming game, Pat Lam said: "There is real excitement in the camp as we face another great challenge away to Ospreys who are flying high in the PRO12 championship. They have one of the best all-round games as well as the most successful record at home this season, highlighted by their 29 points earned out of a possible 30.

"Our focus remains on improving our game and if we can nail our execution and detail, it will give us a great chance of challenging for the points on offer."

Form: Ospreys have lost just one of their last seven PRO12 fixtures: 0-33 at Munster in Round 8. The Welshmen are the best home side in the PRO12 this season having dropped only one possible league point in their six encounters at Liberty Stadium so far. Connacht have lost their last two PRO12 matches to fellow Irish provinces, Ulster and Munster, over the festive period. Connacht’s only victory in their last five visits to Wales was 26-21 against Newport Gwent Dragons in February 2016. Ospreys only two previous defeats to Connacht since the 2012/13 season both came last season when Connacht became champions. Prior to this the Irishmen’s previous victory on Ospreys soil came at The Gnoll in November 2004. 

Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Dafydd Howells, 13 Ashley Beck, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Hanno Dirksen, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Tom Habberfield, 8 Dan Baker, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Olly Cracknell, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Lloyd Ashley, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Nicky Smith
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Paul James, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Adam Beard, 20 Sam Underhill, 21 Brendon Leonard, 22 Dan Biggar, 23 Kieron Fonotia

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O'Halloran, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Rory Parata, 12 Peter Robb, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 John Cooney, 8 Naulia Dawai, 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Sean O'Brien, 5 James Cannon, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 JP Cooney, 18 John Andress, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Eoin McKeon, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Danie Poolman, 23 Ciaran Gaffney

Date: Saturday, 7 January
Venue: Liberty Stadium
Time: 13:30 local 
Referee: John Lacey (IRFU, 59th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Gary Conway (IRFU), Dewi Phillips (WRU)
TMO: Neil Paterson (SRU)