Match Page 2017-18 - Scoreboard WP ID: 132

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Ospreys look to move top of the Guinness PRO12

Guinness PRO14 Rugby Editor 6 Jan 2017
Jack Carty

The Ospreys welcome the Guinness PRO12 champions to the Liberty Stadium on Saturday having lost just one of their last seven league fixtures.

That defeat was a 33-0 reverse against league leaders Munster but they have dropped just one possible league point from their six games at the Liberty Stadium so far this season.

Connacht meanwhile lost both their Guinness PRO12 fixtures during the Christmas period, to Ulster and Munster, and sit eighth in the league table with four wins from 11 games.

What’s at stake?

Ospreys sit second and can move above Munster, who are playing their re-arranged European Champions Cup game with Racing 92, with a win.

The Welsh outfit are two points behind Munster and can get themselves ahead of the Irish province ahead of their next league fixture against Edinburgh on February 4.

Connacht cannot leapfrog Cardiff Blues, even with a bonus-point victory, but a win would move them further away from the chasing pack of Newport Gwent Dragons and the two Italian clubs.

Team news (Ospreys)

Hanno Dirksen makes his 100th Ospreys appearance on the wing while Sam Davies starts at fly-half with Dan Biggar moving to the bench.

Dan Evans takes Davies’ place at full-back with Dafydd Howells on the wing after Keelan Giles was ruled out with a shoulder injury.

In the pack, Nicky Smith is back at prop with Sam Parry starting at hooker and Dan Baker returning at No 8.

Team news (Connacht)

Connacht make three changes to the side that lost to Munster with John Cooney returning from injury to start at scrum-half.

Sean O’Brien comes in at blindside flanker while there’s a first start for the Fijian-born back row Naulia Dawai following his move from Otago in New Zealand.

Talking points:

Head coach Pat Lam insists his players will be concentrating on getting their own performances right in order to try and grab some points from the Ospreys.

“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,” he 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.

Meanwhile Ospreys’ Steve Tandy is determined to finish the festive period of fixtures on a strong note to send a message to the rest of the Guinness PRO12.

“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.”

Key battle: Naulia Dawai has big shoes to fill when he steps in to No 8 for his debut Connacht start with John Muldoon missing his first game of the season.

His opposite number is Ospreys and Wales’ Dan Baker who has made 11 appearances for his club so far this season scoring two tries.

Key stat: 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 away to the Ospreys came at The Gnoll in November 2004.

Lions contenders: In one of the stand-out Guinness PRO12 fixtures of the round, Lions head coach Warren Gatland has plenty to keep an eye on in Swansea.

Two-time Lions tourist Alun Wyn Jones will captain the Ospreys with Justin Tipuric also one to watch in the back row.

Sam Davies has another chance to impress at fly-half while for Connacht full-back Tiernan O’Halloran and prop Finlay Bealham will be key performers.

Did you know?

Connacht’s only victory in their last five visits to Wales was 26-21 against Newport Gwent Dragons in February 2016.

Ospreys:

Top points scorer: 62 – Sam Davies

Top try scorer: 5 – Ben John

Connacht:

Top points scorer: 68 – Jack Carty

Top try scorer: 4 – Niyi Adeolokun

TV: Live on Sky Sports

Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 27, Ospreys won 19, Connacht won 8.

At Liberty Stadium, 1.30pm Live on Sky Sports
Referee: John Lacey (IRFU, 59th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Gary Conway (IRFU), Dewi Phillips (WRU)
Citing Commissioner: Gwyn Bowden (WRU)
TMO: Neil Paterson (SRU)

Guinness PRO12 Final 2017 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 adults and €5 child, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie. For further information visit http://www.pro12rugby.com/final

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

Ospreys reach summit with bonus point win over Connacht

Andrew Lawton 7 Jan 2017

Ospreys moved to the top of the Guinness PRO12 table with a bonus point 29-7 victory over Connacht at the Liberty Stadium.

Dan Baker and Olly Cracknell both got tries early in the first half with Nicky Smith adding a third after the break for the home side.

Sean O’Brien got a consolation score for Connacht but Ashley Beck grabbed the bonus point try in the final moments of the game despite a yellow card for Sam Davies.

Ospreys raced out of the blocks and opened the scoring in the 12th minute when No 8 Baker charged over after Hanno Dirksen, on his 100th appearance for the club, was stopped just short.

Davies converted and barely two minutes later flanker Cracknell doubled the home side’s lead at the Liberty Stadium as he powered through the Connacht defence.

The Ospreys fly-half was once again on target with the conversion as the home side dominated the early exchanges against the Guinness PRO12 champions.

With half an hour played, the Ospreys nearly had their third try as Welsh international Justin Tipuric squeezed over in the corner but the TMO confirmed Matt Healy had taken the flanker into touch.

Davies extended the lead with a 30m penalty four minutes into the second half with a successful penalty to move past 500 points scored for the South Wales club.

The young fly-half joins team-mate Dan Biggar, Gavin Henson and James Hook in an exclusive group to have achieved the feat for the Ospreys.

A Tom Habberfield break saw Ospreys on their way to their third try as a penalty for the hosts was sent into the corner with prop Nicky Smith eventually driving over from close range.

And it was Davies again from the tee with his third successful conversion of the afternoon.

Connacht replacement Danie Poolman came close to the Ospreys try line with ten minutes to play as he attempted to latch onto John Cooney’s kick but Dafydd Howells’ tackle denied him the score.

Davies was shown a yellow card for a high tackle on Cooney in the build up and Connacht’s pressure soon paid off as O’Brien pounced on a loose ball to touch down in the corner.

It was the first try the Ospreys had conceded in the Guinness PRO12 since Edinburgh on December 2 and it was converted from the touchline by Cooney.

But there was still time for Beck to snatch what could be a vital bonus point as he dived over with the last play of the game with the missed conversion inconsequential to the result.

Guinness PRO12 Final 2017 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 adults and €5 child, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie. For further information visit http://www.pro12rugby.com/final

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