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On Saturday Connacht will travel to face the Ospreys in Swansea to finish off what has been a gruelling 7-week slog to start their URC season.
Adam Byrne and Darragh Murray look set to make their Connacht debuts.
A season that started poorly but as the weeks have passed seems to be building nicely and Connacht have good momentum with them as they head to Wales. Andy Friend would really love to finish this stint with a win, and I think they will.
First, let’s look at the opposition. Ospreys sit 10th in the table on 12 points. They only have the one win but have drawn twice and picked up four bonus points which is something Connacht have struggled with. Swansea.comstadium has been a fortress for the Ospreys having only lost twice in the last ten games there. They have lost four of the last five games against Connacht but only one of those games was in Swansea, so the Welsh team will be confident that home field advantage will make all the difference this weekend.
Ospreys don’t cough up possession much at their own ruck, keeping an impressive 97% ball retention which is the highest in the league. Connacht will need big performances at the break down to try and poach some ball back.
Ospreys will be without 15 of their squad who are all away with Wales for the Autumn Internationals. That is a huge number of players to be without. Any team would struggle with continuity when missing that many and Connacht will need to take advantage of this.
Connacht themselves are without five players. Mack Hansen, Finlay Bealham, Dave Heffernan, Cian Prendergast and Caolin Blade are all away with Ireland over the coming weeks. These are five very important players, but you get the sense the players who will be starting this weekend will view this as an opportunity to put down a marker. I said during the week confidence is high in the Connacht camp and I believe that doesn’t just relate to the starting 15. I think confidence is high throughout the squad.
Connacht’s kicking has been really effective in the past three games. Jack Carty last week against Scarlets kicked the ball 18 times and made more metres doing so (717), than any other player in round six. Connacht can use this territory game to their advantage this weekend. If they can force a lot of lineouts and scrums in the Ospreys half than they should be able to capitalize and force some turnovers and penalties. You would have to think that missing so many important players from the Ospreys team should lead to vulnerabilities in their set piece. Connacht should be looking to target that and obliterate it.
The result this weekend will really change the outlook on the opening 7 game stint for Connacht. A loss this weekend and you have two wins and five defeats. The realistic chase for the top eight would be an incredible uphill battle and going into the few weeks break with a loss would be a sour ending. However, getting a win on Saturday and everything looks a lot rosier. Three wins and four losses is by no means a disgrace considering the opposition faced and Andy Friend can relay a top eight finish to his players as a realistic target and something to gun for.
Andy Friend and Pete Wilkins have rotated the squad nicely through the opening games. Missing key men is never ideal but the squad that is travelling to Wales will fancy getting the win here and no man is going into games undercooked. A well earned few weeks break awaits these players after this weekend. Heading into that break with a win Saturday will be the target and I for one believe that they will.
Commenting on the team selection, Director of Rugby Andy Friend says:
“Jarrad reaching 100 caps is a brilliant achievement. He’s a genuine leader within the group both on and off the field, and it’s a testament to him that he has hit a century of appearances in just six seasons with us.
We are continuing to keep the matchday squad fresh with a few changes, whilst still selecting a 23 that is more than capable of picking up a win, albeit against difficult opposition in the Ospreys.
I feel like all of the hard work that has been done from pre-season to date is starting to be seen through our on field performances. We’re all keen to keep that momentum going and finish this block on a high.”
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY SQUAD VS OSPREYS
Saturday 29th October 2022, 19:35 @ Swansea.com Stadium
15. Tiernan O’Halloran (208)
14. Alex Wootton (36)
13. Tom Farrell (82)
12. David Hawkshaw (6)
11. John Porch (65)
10. Jack Carty (183) (C)
9. Caolin Blade (153)
1. Denis Buckley (214)
2. Dylan Tierney-Martin (9)
3. Jack Aungier (37)
4. Oisín Dowling (30)
5. Gavin Thornbury (67)
6. Shamus Hurley-Langton (5)
7. Conor Oliver (46)
8. Jarrad Butler (99)
16. Grant Stewart (3)
17. Jordan Duggan (29)
18. Sam Illo (3)
19. Darragh Murray *
20. Paul Boyle (78)
21. Kieran Marmion (214)
22. Tom Daly (65)
23. Adam Byrne *
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