Elwood makes sweeping changes


Rugby:Connacht coach Eric Elwood has made seven changes – two positional – from the team beaten by Harlequins for the RaboDirect Pro12 game against the Ospreys at the Liberty stadium tomorrow (2.30).

George Naoupu moves from his regular number eight position to lock in place of an injured Mike McCarthy and fullback Robbie Henshaw replacing the injured Eoin Griffin in the centre. Mata Fifita joins the versatile Henshaw in a new centre partnership.

The 19-year-old Darragh Leader earns his first competitive start for the province at full back. Leader, who has only recently been signed to the Connacht Academy, impressed as he came off the bench last week with the Connacht Eagles. The young Leader has represented Ireland at U19 level and is currently with the Ireland U20 squad.

Up front, loosehead prop Brett Wilkinson replaces Denis Buckley while former Leinster hooker Jason Harris-Wright starts for the first time this season. Eoin McKeon wears the number eight jersey. On the bench, former Stormers player Danie Poolman is set to make his first appearance for the province. Rodney Ah You and Dave Gannon also return to the bench as replacement forwards.

Elwood admitted: “Over the years, we’ve had huge physical encounters with the Welsh side and we’ll be expecting the same this weekend. It’s another big challenge but we take great encouragement from our performances of the last few weeks.

“Last Saturday, we went toe-to-toe with the English champions and competed with them for the 80 minutes. We played some great rugby and we’ll be looking to do the same this weekend against the Ospreys. We know it’s going to be a hugely physical battle but we’re very much looking forward to the test. The goal for us is to keep improving and continue on our upward curve.”

The Ospreys will be without Lions and Wales forwards Ryan Jones and Adam Jones, both of whom are injured.

Ospreys:R Fussell; H Dirkson, A Bishop, A Beck, E Walker; D Biggar, K Fortuali’i; R Bevington, R Hibbard, A Jarvis; A Wyn Jones (capt), I Evans; J Bearman, J Tipuric, J Thomas. Replacements:M Dwyer, D Jones, J Rees, J King, G Stowers, R Webb, M Morgan, T Isaacs.

Connacht:D Leader; T O’Halloran, R Henshaw, M Fifita, F Vainikolo; D Parks, K Marmion; B Wilkinson, J Harris Wright, N White (capt); M Swift, G Naoupu; J Muldoon, W Faloon, E McKeon. Replacements:A Flavin, R Loughney, R Ah You, D Gannon, J O’Connor, D Moore, M Nikora, D Poolman.

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