Preview: Ospreys v Connacht

Date published: October 23 2015

Ospreys head coach Steve Tandy has made two changes to his starting line-up for Saturday's PRO12 clash with Connacht at the Liberty Stadium in Swansea.

In the backline, Wales international Eli Walker replaces Hanno Dirksen on the left wing, after last week's win over Treviso, while James King takes over from Joe Bearman on the blindside flank in the pack.

"Last week was a big step up from us in terms of performance and we got the win out in Treviso, but we are under no illusions that we need to be better again this Saturday," said Tandy.

"Connacht have started the season well, are looking dangerous, scoring tries, and are deservedly up in the top four with three wins. 

"In fairness to the IRFU they have a strategic plan in place, have increased their financial support for Connacht considerably and you can see the impact that investment is having on their squad and strength in depth.

"They've not had the disruption that other teams have had through the World Cup, have had a head start, and will be fighting to stay up near the top of the table. 

"For us, it's about striving to be better, sharper and more clinical at what we do, putting together an all round performance that can deliver what we need.

"It's good to see some of the international boys back involved, and in the case of Paul James, back in an Ospreys shirt after three years away. 

"What's also really pleasing is that we've got one or two individuals out there, young men like Rory Thornton and Sam Underhill, who have really grabbed their opportunity over the last few weeks and have kept hold of the shirt on merit. That is exactly what we want and bodes well for the future.

"With the stop/start nature of the season it's been a while since we've been at the Liberty, five weeks since we played Munster there, so it's good to be back home for a game in the traditional Saturday afternoon slot. 

"We had a good crowd for the Munster game and we're hoping for similar this weekend to really give the boys a boost.”

Meanwhile, Connacht head coach Pat Lam has made five changes to his starting XV.

Galway-born full-back Tiernan O'Halloran will captain the side for the first time in his Connacht career. The 24-year-old from Clifden is awarded the honour as John Muldoon, having played 80 minutes in all four games so far this season, is named among the replacements.

Jack Carty has recovered from the injury that kept him out last time to take his place at fly-half. There is a shift in the back-line as Craig Ronaldson moves out to inside centre and Bundee Aki wears the 13 shirt, having played there in his Connacht debut in the same fixture last year.

Galway man Darragh Leader is named on the wing for his first start of the season, replacing Danie Poolman who pulled up with a minor hamstring injury during the week.

Up front, 21-year-old Academy hooker Shane Delahunt will make just his second senior start and packs down in a front-row with the experienced Denis Buckley and Rodney Ah You. Aly Muldowney is also named for his first start of the season, joining Quinn Roux in the second-row.

The back-row sees Eoin McKeon shift to blindside flanker to make way for Eoghan Masterson at number eight. Top try scorer Nepia-Fox Matamua completes the youthful back-row.

From the bench, backs Ian Porter and Niyi Adeolokun are both in line to make their first appearance this season.

Commenting on the team selection and the upcoming game, head coach Lam said: "We always said we would have to rely on our full squad in this busy block of games and we've made some changes this week as planned, especially with a few guys carrying niggles. 

"There is a lot of good competition for places and everyone is desperate to get in to the team so I have no doubt the guys coming in this week will be keen to perform.

"Tiernan (O'Halloran) is named as captain and I'm delighted for him and his family. He is part of our leadership group and even at 24 years of age, he's one of the senior players on and off the pitch.

"It's always a big challenge for us going over to play Ospreys. 

"They have a big squad full of quality players who will be determined to continue their drive back up the table. For us, a win there is well overdue and we know that if we stick to our structures and play as a team for 80 plus minutes, we will have a good chance tomorrow."

Form: Ospreys recorded their opening victory of the 2015/16 PRO12 campaign with their 25-22 win in Treviso on Saturday. The Welshmen were defeated by Munster last time out at Liberty Stadium, but have not lost back-to-back home games at the venue in the tournament since September 2012. Connacht have suffered only one reversal so far this season and that by a solitary point in 65, at Glasgow in Round 2. The Irishmen have already beaten two Welsh regions this season, accounting for Dragons in Round 1 and The Blues in Round 3. Connacht's only victory in their last 14 encounters with Ospreys was 22-10 in Galway in February 2013 whilst the last time that the Irishmen defeated Ospreys on their own soil was 10-9 at The Gnoll in November 2004.

The teams:

Ospreys:  15 Richard Fussell, 14 Tom Grabham, 13 Ben John, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Eli Walker, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Dan Baker, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 James King, 5 Rory Thornton, 4 Lloyd Ashley (c), 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Ryan Bevington.
Replacements: 16 Scott Otten, 17 Paul James, 18 Aaron Jarvis, 19 Rynier Bernardo, 20 Joe Bearman, 21 Justin Tipuric, 22 Tom Habberfield, 23 Dan Evans.

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O'Halloran (c), 14 Darragh Laeder, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Craig Ronaldson, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Eoghan Masterson, 7 Nepia Fox-Matamua, 6 Eoin McKeon, 5 Aly Muldowney, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Shane Delahunt, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Conan O'Donnell, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 John Muldoon, 21 Ian Porter, 22 Rory Parata, 23 Niyi Adeolokun

Date: Saturday, October 24
Venue: Liberty Stadium
Kick-off: 13:30 local (12:30 GMT)
Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU)
Assistant Referees: Sean Brickell, Aled Evans (both WRU)
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (WRU)