Elwood throws Leader in at deep end for Ospreys battle
AFTER welcoming the Premiership champions to the Sportsground in the Heineken Cup last weekend, it doesn't get any easier for Connacht, who visit the home of Pro12 champions Ospreys this afternoon.
Eric Elwood is once again showing his willingness to give youth its chance, with Darragh Leader handed his first competitive start for the province at full-back in one of five changes to the side that lost out 30-22 to Harlequins last weekend.
The 19-year-old, who only recently joined the province's academy, came off the bench for the Connacht Eagles in the British and Irish Cup last weekend and starts in the No 15 shirt.
Fetu'u Vainikolo has been called up to the Tongan squad for the autumn internationals, so Danie Poolman's inclusion on the bench -- after a trip to visit the same doctor that Usain Bolt uses to help sort a hamstring injury -- is a timely one.
Mike McCarthy was named in the Ireland squad on Wednesday but injury rules him out, meaning George Naoupu moves from his regular slot at No 8 to the second-row alongside Michael Swift.
Earlier this week, Swift expressed a desire to extend his stay at Connacht and help bring through young talent like Leader, Robbie Henshaw and scrum-half Kieran Marmion.
"Thankfully, I have been lucky with injuries and hope to go on for some time yet," said Swift, who turned 35 last week. "A career doesn't go on forever, but I'm really enjoying it."
Connacht's other Ireland representative, John Muldoon, starts at blindside in what Elwood expects to be another bruising encounter, as the province go looking for their first win at the Liberty Stadium and their first over the Ospreys since they won in Neath in 2004.
"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 over the last few weeks," said Elwood.
"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 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."
Ospreys are without Ryan and Adam Jones but another Jones, Alun-Wyn, skippers the side.
Ospreys -- R Fussell; H Dirksen, A Bishop, A Beck, E Walker; D Biggar, K Fotuali'I; R Bevington, R Hibbard, A Jarvis; A Wyn Jones, I Evans; J Bearman, J Tipuric, J Thomas. Reps: 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, FVainikolo; D Parks, K Marmion; B Wilkinson, J Harris-Wright, N White; M Swift, G Naoupu; J Muldoon, W Faloon, E McKeon. Reps: A Flavin, R Loughney, R Ah You, D Gannon, J O'Connor, D Moore, M Nikora, D Poolman.
Ref -- G Clancy (IRFU).