Anything possible if Connacht take early lead
Connacht may have along afternoon as they face Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric
Munster’s James Cronin and Jack Carty of Connacht. Connacht’s outhalf crisis appears to have been temporarily allayed by Carty’s return, with Ciarán Gaffney, providing cover. Photograph: INPHO/James Crombie
A club seeking a coach with the soon-to-be-departing coach still on deck can prove troublesome. The message gets skewed for starters as it’s no longer a case of everyone being on the same journey.
Add a 21-man injury and open dissension with the IRFU, relayed via the media, and that message could get lost entirely.
And still Connacht continue to provide wonder and defy logic. Just ask Wasps and Toulouse.
If they take an early lead here anything will seem possible, especially if they can punish the Ospreys for holding All Black scrumhalf Brendon Leonard and Wales outhalf Dan Biggar in reserve. But they must bring cohesion to their play again, despite the injury crisis in comparison to 13 wounded Ospreys.
Notably, this number includes Rhys Webb, Dan Lydiate and Bradley Davies, but the equally debilitating absence of John Muldoon, Bundee Aki, Ultan Dillane and one cap Springbok Marnitz Boshoff has the bookmakers writing up a 14-point handicap swing.
Boshoff barely arrived and was laid out, but the outhalf crisis appears to have been temporarily allayed by Jack Carty’s return, with Ciarán Gaffney, who played 10 for Cistercian College Roscrea, providing cover.
Victory here seems more important to the Ospreys than Connacht because European rugby is irrelevant to them as the Challenge Cup offers silverware without safe passage into next season’s Champions Cup.
Two points adrift
“The Pro 12 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,” said Ospreys coach Steve Tandy.
“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.”
Connacht, the Pro 12 champions Tandy speaks about, are hidden in there somewhere and despite their problems they travel with a decent pack. However, in the face of Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric a long afternoon is promised.
The 14-point spread on Connacht feels like a decent wager but a bonus point would be a victory of sorts.
“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. “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.”
Execution and detail, like the Connacht everyone had grown accustomed to watching.
OSPREYS: Dan Evans; Dafydd Howells, Ashley Beck, Josh Matavesi, Hanno Dirksen; Sam Davies, Tom Habberfield; Nicky Smith, Sam Parry, Ma’afu Fia; Lloyd Ashley, Alun Wyn Jones (capt); Olly Cracknell, Justin Tipuric, Dan Baker. Replacements: Scott Baldwin, Paul James, Rhodri Jones, Adam Beard, Sam Underhill, Brendon Leonard, Dan Biggar, Kieron Fonotia.
CONNACHT: Tiernan O’Halloran; Niyi Adeolokun, Rory Parata, Peter Robb, Matt Healy; Jack Carty, John Cooney; Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney (capt), Finlay Bealham; Quinn Roux, James Cannon; Sean O’Brien, Jake Heenan, Naulia Dawai. Replacements: Dave Heffernan, JP Cooney, John Andress, Lewis Stevenson, Eoin McKeon, Caolin Blade, Danie Poolman, Ciaran Gaffney.
Referee: John Lacey (IRFU).
Betting: Ospreys 10/11 with -14 handicap.
Forecast: Home win.