Wednesday 13 December 2017

Elwood urges his troops to prove progress

Hugh Farrelly

AMID all the excitement of last weekend's tussle with Toulouse, Connacht never lost sight of the bigger picture.

Wonderful occasion, they said, but next week's visit of the Ospreys is more important. The reasoning was based on the toughness of Connacht's Heineken Cup pool, where they compete alongside Toulouse, Harlequins and Gloucester, which meant qualification would always be unlikely and progression would be judged on their Pro12 exploits.

However, progression will also be judged on Connacht's off-pitch development and the size of the crowd for tonight's follow-up will be instructive. Even though their team were never in the contest, the 9,000-plus crowd were magnificent against Toulouse, as was the Sportsground, and Connacht hope the experience will bring first-timers back for more.

While the crowd thoroughly enjoyed their Heineken Cup experience, Connacht looked like a team who let the occasion and the marquee opposition get to them.

"It is important to park the euphoria of Toulouse," said coach Eric Elwood. "Even though we did not get the results we would have liked in the two European games, we played at a different level of intensity and performance.

"And if we can bring that to the Ospreys, that is important. I believe the experience will pay dividends, but we have to match that with the performance and a win if possible.

"I have no doubt the Ospreys will be coming after us. They know they won't get it easy."

Elwood is without the suspended Mike McCarthy and the injured Michael Swift and Eoin Griffin, so George Naoupu comes into the second-row next to Dave Gannon, with TJ Anderson and Ray Ofisa joining the back-row. Henry Fa'afili starts in midfield.

Ospreys arrive as league leaders and have multi-capped experience in the form of Tommy Bowe, Duncan Jones and Ian Gough. However, without seven internationals, seconded for Wales' upcoming meeting with Australia, coach Sean Holley starts his share of youngsters.

Matthew Morgan is a highly regarded young out-half, as is Rhys Webb inside him, while the Ospreys also carry the energy of Canadian Chauncey O'Toole on the open-side flank.

"Connacht away at the Sportground is always a tough fixture," said Holley. "It's a difficult place to play with tough conditions and a partisan crowd, so it's going to be a real experience for some of the youngsters in the squad who may not have played there before.

"We were very fortunate to secure the win at the Liberty earlier in the season, so we are well aware of what to expect on Saturday night."


Although it was a hugely positive experience overall, there is considerable frustration in the Connacht camp that they did not do themselves justice against Toulouse. This is a chance to put things right.

Captain Gavin Duffy has been in outstanding form at full-back, Ofisa and Fa'afili can play leading roles after impressive cameos against Toulouse and it is safe to expect a big game from John Muldoon after last weekend's frustration.

It would also be of benefit if the weather returned to its inhospitable worst as this would help reduce the threat of Ospreys wingers Bowe and Richard Fussell.

Hosting Toulouse showed what a fantastic venue the Sportsground could become -- now Connacht need the results to make it happen.

Verdict: Connacht

CONNACHT -- G Duffy (Capt); B Tuohy, D McSharry, H Fa'afili, T O'Halloran; M Nikora, P O'Donohoe; B Wilkinson, A Flavin, R Ah You; D Gannon, G Naoupu; TJ Anderson, J Muldoon, R Ofisa. Reps: E Reynecke, R Loughney, S Maguire, M Kearney, E Grace, F Murphy, N O'Connor, M McCrea.

OSPREYS -- B Davies; T Bowe, A Bishop, A Beck, R Fussell; M Morgan, R Webb; D Jones, R Hibbard, A Jarvis; I Gough, J King; T Smith (Capt), C O'Toole, J Bearman. Reps: M Davies, C Griffiths, J Rees, J Goode, G Stowers, T Isaacs, S Parker, H Dirksen.

REF -- A McMenemy (Scotland).

Connacht v Ospreys,

Live, TG4, 6.30

Irish Independent

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