Friday 15 December 2017

Ronaldson gets No 10 nod as Connacht bid to cure second-half ills

Lam: Leaves Fionn Carr on the bench
Lam: Leaves Fionn Carr on the bench
Conor George

Conor George

CONNACHT'S inability to score in the second half of their last two matches has highlighted a serious frailty – one that must be remedied if they are to realise their ambitions this season.

What was most frustrating about their second-half performance last weekend was that they were outstanding for the first 40 minutes.

Dan Parks ran the show from out-half. Like a master puppeteer, he pulled the strings as Robbie Henshaw, Eoin Griffin and Matt Healy benefited from his quick hands, vision and, crucially, his bossing of the game.

His forwards also profited from his kicking game as he regularly sent them into the Ulster half.

By half-time Parks had become the first man to score 1,500 points in the league as his own converted try had the home side 7-5 in front.

The second half was a different story. Connacht imploded, and Ulster's Paddy Jackson took control.

"We need to look at ourselves and where we can improve. Our second-half performance was certainly a worry ... for the second week," said Connacht coach Pat Lam after the Ulster game.

Lam's impact on Connacht has been hugely positive since taking over from Eric Elwood. Players have been queueing up to praise the New Zealander's influence.

"Pat commands a lot of respect, he had a fantastic career so it's great to have someone like that calling the shots," said Healy this week.

Today's opponents Ospreys (5.0) are undefeated after three rounds of the Pro12.

That said, the Welshmen have not beaten an Irish province in their last four fixtures, a sequence which includes two draws, with all games being played away from home.

Connacht won this fixture 22-10 in Galway last season, their first victory over Ospreys since 2008. However, their only victory in their last half a dozen Pro12 games was a 25-16 win at home to Zebre in round 1.

They desperately need a pick-me-up after last weekend's collapse.

Lam has made four changes. Two are enforced because of injury, while Danie Poolman replaces Fionn Carr on the wing, with Craig Ronaldson starting his fourth ever professional game in place of Parks at out-half.

Ospreys have a rather menacing look to their line-up, thanks to the inclusion of their Lions players.

Alun-Wyn Jones and Ian Evans link up in the second-row, Justin Tipuric is at openside flanker, and Adam Jones starts in the front-row.

"We are pleased to be where we are in the table, up at the right end, but we won't be getting ahead of ourselves," said coach Steve Tandy.

"We know what to expect in terms of conditions, it'll be wet and windy as it always is, and we realise that going to Galway you have to play the conditions as well as the opposition.

"We'll have to be up for it from the first whistle or they'll make us pay."

CONNACHT – G Duffy; D Poolman, R Henshaw, E Griffin, M Healy; C Ronaldson, K Marmion; B Wilkinson, S Henry, N White; M Swift, C Clarke; A Browne, J Heenan, J Muldoon. Reps: J Rael, R Ah You, R Loughney, A Muldowney, G Naoupu, P O'Donohoe, D Parks, F Carr.

OSPREYS – R Fussell; J Hassler, B John, A Beck, E Walker; D Biggar, T Tebaldi; D Jones, S Baldwin, A Jones; AW Jones, I Evans; J King, J Tipuric, M Allen. Reps: R Hibbard, R Bevington, A Jarvis, T Ardron, J Bearman, T Habberfield, M Morgan, J Spratt.

Ref – A McMenemy (SRU)

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