Connacht looking for some home comfort to finish campaign

Visitors Ospreys may be more motivated as two bonus-point wins can secure them a final spot

Shane Delahunt will  become Connacht’s latest centurion as part of a new-look front-row against Ospreys at the Sportsground. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Shane Delahunt will become Connacht’s latest centurion as part of a new-look front-row against Ospreys at the Sportsground. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

Rainbow Cup: Connacht v Ospreys

Kick-off: 6pm, Friday. Venue: The Sportsground. On TV: Live on eir Sport and TG4.

Connacht sign off an erratic 2020-21 season containing plenty of highs and lows, the win over Munster and loss to Benetton in their last two outings a microcosm of their campaign.

An unprecedented hat-trick of victories away to all three Irish rivals have contributed to seven wins out of 13 away games, but by contrast they have won three and lost seven at the Sportsground.

The pity is that the Government’s decision to allow crowds of 200 at venues of 5,000 capacity or more doesn’t come into effect until Monday, meaning there can’t even be a seasonal farewell for family and friends.

The second-minute injury which ruined Denis Buckley’s landmark 200th appearance away to Benetton last week also had serious ripple effects on the game given Connacht’s scrum woes.

Worse still, Buckley sustained an ACL injury which will require surgery and will sideline him until the New Year, with Finlay Bealham, Dave Heffernan and Paul Boyle also joining a casualty list featuring Stephen Fitzgerald, Sean O’Brien, Tiernan O’Halloran, Conor Oliver, Peter Robb, Quinn Roux and Gavin Thornbury.

Andy Friend makes seven changes, with hooker Shane Delahunt to become Connacht’s latest centurion as part of a new-look front-row and he vowed: “One hundred per cent we want to win this game on the weekend and use it as a springboard, that would be good. But even just to finish the season off, because otherwise it just sits in your guts.”

With the Irish summer Tests in mind, he also said: “We’ve got a chunk of players who I believe are able to be named in that squad.”

However the Ospreys, victorious here in January, have more tangible motivation, as bonus point wins this evening and at home to Benetton could see them secure a place in the North v South final. Toby Booth also welcomes back Rhys Webb, who scored two tries in that win, to captain the side and Stephen Myler at half-back.

* Connacht and the IRFU have appointed the province’s long-serving lock Andrew Browne, who played 156 times across an 11-year career, and Mark Sexton, the current Leinster Under-19s coach, to the roles of Elite Player Development Officer (EPDO).

Connacht: Alex Wootton, Peter Sullivan, Bundee Aki, Tom Daly, Ben O’Donnell; Jack Carty, Caolin Blade; Jordan Duggan, Shane Delahunt, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Niall Murray, Ultan Dillane, Cian Prendergast, Jarrad Butler (capt), Eoghan Masterson. Replacements: Jonny Murphy, Matthew Burke, Jack Aungier, Oisin Dowling, Sean Masterson, Kieran Marmion, Conor Fitzgerald, Sammy Arnold.

Ospreys: Dan Evans, Dewi Cross, Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, Joe Hawkins, Luke Morgan, Stephen Myler, Rhys Webb (Capt), Nicky Smith, Sam Parry, Tom Botha, Adam Beard, Bradley Davies, Will Griffiths, Morgan Morris, Ethan Roots. Replacements: Ifan Phillips, Gareth Thomas, Ma’afu Fia, Rhys Davies, Sam Cross, Reuben Morgan-Williams, Luke Price, Max Nagy

Referee: Mike Adamson (SRU, 53rd competition game)

Forecast: Ospreys to win.

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