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Preview: Ospreys v Connacht

Charlie Talbot-Smith 25 Oct 2018

Two Conference A rivals go head-to-head on Friday night when Connacht visit the Ospreys.

However, instead of taking place at the Liberty Stadium, this fixture is moved to Bridgend and Morganstone Brewery Field, the first Championship match to be hosted at the venue since Celtic Warriors beat Cardiff Blues there on May 7, 2004.

What’s at stake? Ospreys sit three positions above Connacht in Conference A as second hosts fifth – but there are also only three points between them, meaning the Irish side could leapfrog them with victory.

The Irish province have won just once away from home since February but that victory came last time out – an historic 22-15 success over Ulster for their first win in Belfast since 1960.

The Irishmen have played twice before at Brewery Field in the Championship, beating Bridgend there in September 2002 and losing to Celtic Warriors in February 2004.

Ospreys’ only defeat in their last four encounters with Connacht was at Galway in February.

Team News (Ospreys): Speedy winger Keelan Giles ends his year of injury hell with his first Guinness PRO14 start of the season.

Giles made his return from a long-term knee injury in the European Challenge Cup and now returns to league action.

With their Welsh internationals in camp, Allen Clarke has had to ring the changes to his team, meaning scrum-half Harri Morgan makes his first Ospreys start and Guinness PRO14 debut.

Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler also makes his first Guinness PRO14 start in the centres but Wales have released Dan Lydiate back to his club for extra game time and he starts on the blindside flank.

Team News (Connacht): Ireland international scrum-half Kieran Marmion returns to Connacht’s side to renew his half-back partnership with Jack Carty, who is back in the starting team after being rested for the trip to Sale last weekend.

Bundee Aki also returns to the midfield alongside Tom Farrell. They are part of a back line that includes Tiernan O’Halloran at full-back and Niyi Adeolokun and Cian Kelleher on the wings.

In the forwards, Finlay Bealham, who was named in the Ireland squad yesterday, starts at tighthead. He is joined in the front row by loosehead Denis Buckley and hooker Tom McCartney. Behind them in the scrum will be Quinn Roux and Ultan Dillane.

Sean O’Brien returns from injury and is named in the back row with Captain Jarrad Butler at openside and 21-year-old Paul Boyle at number 8.

Talking points Ospreys Head Coach, Allen Clarke, said:

“We’re all really looking forward to playing at the Brewery Field. The boys love playing at the Liberty but going to Bridgend is an exciting prospect. It’s a club with a great rugby history, which many of the boys have played for in their early years.”

Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend on the importance of Marmion’s return: “We have a few of our more experienced players coming back into the side, which is a big boost to the squad.

“Caolin Blade has done really well for us over the past few games but it is great to have Kieran back as well. He is a really important player for us and he is fit and rearing to go.

“We also have Bundee back in our midfield alongside Tom Farrell, so overall, we are strengthened by our returning players for what we expect to be a tough fixture.

“Ospreys are going really well in our conference with four wins from their opening six games. The fact that they are hosting the game in Bridgend, means that it will be a really unique fixture.

“A few of our squad have played there before, so some guys will be familiar with the ground. It will be a great atmosphere and we are really looking forward to the challenge.”

Key battle: Harri Morgan v Kieran Marmion

On paper, the gap in experience between the two No.9s is huge.

Kieran Marmion is an Irish international while Harri Morgan is making his first Guinness PRO14 start.

Still only 18, Morgan has toured with Wales U18 and already trained with the U20s set-up, and is a name very much on the rise.

But Marmion, who has five Ireland starts to his name, is returning from an ankle injury but will be keen to teach the youngster a lesson.

Key fact: Ospreys have won their last eight home games in the Championship but all of those matches were played at Liberty Stadium

Did you know? Connacht’s record in the Guinness PRO14 this season could not be more uniform –  lost, won, lost, won, lost, won – and they have not won successive games in the Championship for almost twelve months.

TV: Live on Premier Sports and TG4

At Morganstone Brewery Field, Bridgend, 8.05pm

Referee: Mike Adamson (SRU, 25th competition game) Assistant Referees: Sam Grove-White (SRU), Mike English (WRU) Citing Commissioner: Gwyn Bowden (WRU) TMO: Neil Paterson (SRU)

Ospreys: Dan Evans, Hanno Dirksen, Cory Allen, Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, Keelan Giles, Sam Davies, Harri Morgan, Rhodri Jones, Scott Otten, Tom Botha, Lloyd Ashley, James King, Dan Lydiate, Olly Cracknell, Rob McCusker

Replacements: Scott Baldwin, Gareth Thomas, Alex Jeffries, James Ratti, Guido Volpi, Matthew Aubrey, James Hook, Tom Williams

Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun, Tom Farrell, Bundee Aki, Cian Kelleher, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion, Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Quinn Roux, Sean O’Brien, Jarrad Butler, Paul Boyle.

Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Conan O’Donnell, Conor Carey, James Cannon, Colby Fainga’a, Caolin Blade, Conor Fitzgerald, Kyle Godwin.

Historical Lineup Pre Opta (sfms data) - Preview - v2

Match Page 2017-18 - Lineups WP: 135

Match Page 2017-18 - Match Data WP: 140

Match Page 2017-18 - Timeline WP:139

Evans’ last-gasp score lifts Ospreys past Connacht

Charlie Talbot-Smith 26 Oct 2018

Dan Evans went over with the final play of the game to give Ospreys a dramatic win over Connacht at Morganstone Brewery Field.

The Welsh region – in the first league game at the ground since 2004 – looked to have wrapped up victory by the hour mark in Bridgend.

A quickfire first-half double from Keelan Giles put them 10-3 to the good at the break and then Harri Morgan went over to put them seemingly out of sight in the second half.

But Connacht refused to roll over and late tries from Bundee Aki and Jarrad Butler, both nervelessly converted by Jack Carty, levelled up the scores at 17-17.

And it looked like it would stay that way until Cory Allen’s magnificent break up the middle saw him hauled down just short of the line, but the loose ball was ruled knocked forward by Connacht by the TMO and Evans was on hand to dive over and seal Ospreys’ ninth home win on the spin.

Connacht’s record in the Guinness PRO14 this season could not be more uniform –  lost, won, lost, won, lost, won – and they have not won successive games in the Championship for almost twelve months.

But after their historic win in Belfast over Ulster last time out in the league – their first win there since 1960 – they arrived in Bridgend full of confidence.

But that did not last long as Giles got free down the left in the third minute after being fed by Lloyd Ashley, kicked ahead and regathered in slippery conditions to dot down.

Sam Davies missed the extras but soon after and Giles was at it again, this time Davies – who kicked superbly in the first half – laid it on a plate for him with a cross-field effort and the youngster had his second.

Again Davies was off with the extras and the Ospreys were just 10-0 to the good but Connacht got on the board before the quarter-hour mark as Carty chipped over a scruffy drop goal.

And 10-3 was how it stayed until the interval as the Irish province – with internationals like Aki and Quinn Roux restored to their line-up – battled hard.

Replacement Colby Fainga’a was introduced early and also made a real impact but the Welsh side went in at the break seven points to the good.

The hosts’ hopes of victory slimmed on the resumption however, when Rob McCusker saw yellow for a high shot.

But the 14 men held out impressively – Carty wayward with his kicking from hand – and actually grabbed their third try while still at a numerical disadvantage.

Allen was the creator with an incisive break down the right and Morgan – on his Guinness PRO14 debut – took the pass on the inside to go over.

Davies added the extras and at 17-3 the home side were in charge heading into the final quarter.

Connacht’s pressure did finally pay off though when Aki joined a driving maul and forced his way over – Carty converting to make it 17-10.

Ill discipline was undoing the hosts and when a second lineout drive from Connacht went close, the ball was moved left and Butler burrowed over.

Carty again arrowed over the conversion to level up the scores but then the Ospreys struck in dramatic fashion.

Conan O’Donnell looked like he had hauled down Allen and saved his side, but the TMO judged the ball had been knocked on by the replacement and with advantage being played, Evans’ quick thinking to pick up and score was rewarded.

Davies missed the extras again but the Ospreys could celebrate a bonus-point win against their Conference B rivals.

Match Page 2017-18 - Summary WP:137

Match Page 2017-18 - Match Data WP: 140

Match Page 2017-18 - Timeline WP:139

Match Page 2017-18 - Lineups WP: 135

Match Page 2017-18 - Performance WP:138