Conference A’s top two face off in the Guinness PRO14 this weekend as the Glasgow Warriors head to the Liberty Stadium to take on an Ospreys side looking to reel them in.
The Welsh province will be hoping to consign the Warriors to successive defeats after they last week gained ground on their rivals, who fell 25-24 at Munster.
Ospreys needed a last-minute try from Dan Evans to scrape a 22-17 over Connacht, setting this one up perfectly for what looks to be a Friday night classic in the making.
What’s at stake?
Both sides have won five of their seven Guinness PRO14 fixtures so far this season, with the Scottish side four points clear by virtue of their prolific tendency for picking up bonus points.
Ospreys are unbeaten at home, while Glasgow’s two defeats have both come on the road, a statistic that will give Allen Clarke’s side great hope.
But it was the Warriors who dealt Ospreys their last Guinness PRO14 defeat at the Liberty, and Glasgow have lost only once in their last five trips to Wales.
With this the last round of fixtures before a fortnight’s break, both sides will be desperate to claim the summit as we head into the internationals.
Team News (Ospreys): Clarke makes just three changes to the side that was victorious against Connacht, with Will Jones’ return the most notable.
We took a look back at the 2014/15 season and this try from Ben John against this weekend’s opponents @GlasgowWarriors
— Ospreys (@ospreys) 1 November 2018
The youngster makes his first appearance in eight months after recovering from ankle surgery in March and replaces Dan Lydiate – on duty with Wales – at flanker.
Ma’afu Fia comes in for Tom Botha at prop, while in the backs Harri Morgan misses out with a calf strain, with Tom Habberfield deputising.
Team News (Glasgow Warriors): The big news for the Warriors is that USA international Tevita Tameilau will make his first start for the side at number eight.
DTH van der Merwe returns on the wing after missing out last week, while Rob Harley and George Turner both start after they were released by Scotland this week.
Kiran McDonald looks set to make his Warriors debut after being named among the replacements, while Paddy Kelly could play his first rugby of the season if he comes off the bench.
Talking points: Ospreys head coach Allen Clarke said: “Selection this week is a reward for last week’s performance and the win over Connacht. It’s a big challenge on Friday night against the Conference leaders, a team with real strength in depth.
“We’ve had a good training week and that needs to translate into performance on game day. The players have challenged themselves to continue raising the bar and are looking forward to going again, against the in-form team in the league, who are consistently one of the best teams in the Guinness PRO14.”
Warriors head coach Dave Rennie said: “We’re excited by the challenge this week. What we know is that regardless of who pulls on the jersey there is an expectation to perform in it and we’ve named a strong squad that can go out there and deliver.
“Ospreys are right on our tails in the Conference and are playing really well. We’ll need to reach the same levels of physicality we have done in our last three games to get the performance we expect from a Glasgow Warriors side.
Key battle: The return of Canada international van der Merwe is something of a coup for the high-scoring Glasgow.
The Warriors’ record try-scorer was much-missed in his side’s defeat to Munster and is set to face off against Wales youngster Keelan Giles in this one.
— Glasgow Warriors (@GlasgowWarriors) 1 November 2018
With both sides lacking several senior figures during the international period, van der Merwe’s attacking nous may prove crucial.
Key fact: The Warriors achieved a season’s double over Ospreys last year reversing the trend of 2016/17.
Did you know? Glasgow Warriors last four matches in the Guinness PRO14 have all been won by the home side on the day – their most recent success on the road in the Championship was against Cheetahs in Bloemfontein in round 3.
Ospreys: Dan Evans, Hanno Dirksen, Cory Allen, Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, Keelan Giles, Sam Davies, Tom Habberfield; Rhodri Jones, Scott Otten, Ma’afu Fia, Lloyd Ashley, James King, Olly Cracknell (c), Will Jones, Rob McCusker
Replacements: Sam Parry, Gareth Thomas, Tom Botha, James Ratti, Guido Volpo, Matthew Aubrey, James Hook, Tom Williams
Glasgow Warriors: Ruaridh Jackson, DTH van der Merwe, Nick Grigg, Stafford McDowall, Rory Hughes, Brandon Thomson, Nick Frisby; Oli Kebble, George Turner, D’Arcy Rae, Rob Harley, Scott Cummings, Adam Ashe, Callum Gibbins (c), Tevita Tameilau
Replacements: Grant Stewart, Jamie Bhatti, Adam Nicol, Kiran McDonald, Matt Smith, Bruce Flockhart, Paddy Kelly, Niko Matawula
TV: At Liberty Stadium, Swansea, 7.35pm. Live on Premier Sports, eir Sport
Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU, 40th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Kieran Barry (IRFU), Craig Evans (WRU)
Citing Commissioner: Ray Wilton (WRU)
TMO: Jon Mason (WRU)
Niko Matawalu sprang off the Glasgow Warriors bench to register a hat-trick of tries to help secure his side five points away at Ospreys.
With both sides in good form this looked an intriguing match-up, and one in which Ospreys scored the first try through back-row Olly Cracknell early on.
But Matawalu, brought on as an early replacement for the injured Ruaridh Jackson, fired back with a double before the quarter-way point and wrapped up his hat-trick just after the break.
The excellent Nick Grigg got the crucial fourth, meaning Hanno Dirksen’s late reply was a mere consolation and the Warriors march on with a five-point maximum.
The home side started on the front foot at the Liberty Stadium and took the lead after a spell of pressure resulted in full-back Dan Evans bursting through the 22 and Cracknell proving unsurprisingly unstoppable from short distance in the next play.
Sam Davies converted but the Warriors were in no mood to surrender any more initiative and after charging down Tom Habberfield’s box-kick found themselves with space to attack.
The ball was worked out wide to wing DTH Van Der Merwe, who took contact and delivered a brilliant impromptu offload for replacement Matawalu to sweep round the back and cross.
Better was to come just three minutes later as outside centre Grigg came up with a trademark break, using all of his strength to stay on his feet and feed the supporting Matawalu, who had two tries inside 15 minutes despite not starting the match.
Davies clawed back a penalty on 26 minutes and missed a tricky one just before the break, but got the scoreboard moving again early in the second half.
From there though Glasgow came back once again, with an excellent combination between backs and forwards.
The Warriors pack muscled their way close to the Ospreys line and got the ball out to fly-half Brandon Thomson, who delivered a semi-chipped cross-field kick out to the waiting Matawalu for the hat-trick.
Heading into the final quarter the away side led 22-13 but decided that wasn’t enough, and secured the bonus point on the hour mark as a break from deep saw the ball moved to Grigg to go in under the posts.
Thomson converted to create a 16-point lead and Ospreys tried to get back into it, eventually threatening a comeback five minutes from time as Dirksen pounced on a loose kick and evading the remaining defenders to grab a consolation.