CONNACHT might be getting nosebleeds in the play-off spots, but they will face a stern test of their top-four credentials at the Liberty Stadium tonight (7.30), WRITES RUAIDHRI O'CONNOR.
Currently third after three wins from their opening four games, Eric Elwood's charges are making hay while the big names are away.
They might be a largely new squad, but with the likes of captain Gavin Duffy, Frank O'Connor, Brett Wilkinson, Mike McCarthy, Johnny O'Connor and John Muldoon keeping fit and playing well, they are now one of the most experienced sides in the league.
That core is now surrounded by some exciting talent and young guns Eoin Griffin and Tiernan O'Halloran have been playing well so far this season. Niall O'Connor continues at out-half ahead of Matt Jarvis, while his old Ulster team-mate TJ Anderson makes his first start in green.
Ospreys remain unbeaten and are three points ahead of Connacht in second place. They have already comfortably seen off Ulster and Leinster at the Liberty Stadium this season.
Despite their World Cup participants' absence, they can still name nine Wales internationals to start in a strong side that have plenty in reserve to threaten Elwood's men.
Coach Sean Holley can see plenty of room for improvement for his charges and the Welsh side know that Connacht's record across the Irish Sea is poor, having only won once since 2004 when they beat the Ospreys.
The hosts should have more than enough, but Elwood will be looking for a big performance in this daunting test before his side's Heineken Cup debut.
OSPREYS -- B Davies; R Fussell, T Isaacs, A Bishop, H Dirksen; D Biggar, R Webb; D Jones, R Hibbard, A Jarvis; I Gough, I Evans; T Smith, J Tipuric (capt), J Thomas. Reps: M Davies, C Griffiths, J Rees, J King, J Bearman, M Morgan, S Parker, K Phillips.
CONNACHT -- G Duffy (capt); B Tuohy, E Griffin, H Fa'afili, T O'Halloran; N O'Connor, F Murphy; B Wilkinson, E Reynecke, D Rogers; M Swift, M McCarthy; TJ Anderson, J O'Connor, J Muldoon. Reps: A Flavin, R Loughney, S Maguire, D Gannon, R Ofisa, P O'Donohoe, M Jarvis, J Loxton.
REF -- S Penne (Connacht).