Sunday 17 December 2017

Duffy out to wow Kidney with Connacht in limelight

Hugh Farrelly

ROB KEARNEY'S injury has created a vacancy in the Ireland No 15 jersey and this weekend's matches provide audition opportunities for various hopefuls attempting to catch the eye of Declan Kidney.

Keith Earls and Tommy Bowe are at the head of the queue to replace Kearney but are off duty for their clubs, having started in Paris last Saturday, which leaves Denis Hurley (Munster), Girvan Dempsey (Leinster) and Geordan Murphy (Leicester) as the candidates from last night and today.

And tomorrow afternoon (5.0), it will be the turn of Connacht's Gavin Duffy who goes into the clash with the Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium on the back of a couple of excellent performances for the Irish Wolfhounds. The 28-year-old Mayo man won his first cap on the 2004 tour to South Africa and has amassed 10 in total, his most recent coming last summer against Canada and US Eagles while Ireland's front-liners were on Lions duty.

Against the England Saxons and Scotland 'A' recently, Duffy mixed security with adventure in a couple of eye-catching displays and, with tomorrow's clash screened live (a rarity for Connacht in the league), against high-profile opponents, this is the perfect chance to make an impression.

Connacht have had more joy in the Challenge Cup than Magners this campaign and occupy familiar territory at the bottom of the table on nine points -- the Ospreys are 20 points ahead in second spot. However, the Welsh outfit have lost 17 players to international duty and injury while Connacht are at full strength, including hooker Sean Cronin who could win his first Six Nations cap off the bench against England in Twickenham next Saturday.

John Muldoon captains the side from the back row while regular half-backs Frank Murphy and Ian Keatley will attempt to direct operations and bring the free-scoring Fionn Carr into play on the wing. Even without a host of marquee names, the Ospreys can still start players of the quality of Marty Holah, Ian Gough and Sonny Parker and, given Connacht's troubles on the road, will expect to secure a comfortable home victory.

"This week is about the core group of players who have been waiting for their chance to show management what they can do, and why they should be in the team," said Ospreys coach Scott Johnson.

Connacht coach Michael Bradley has spoken about how he and his players are "annoyed and disappointed" with their away form and victory tomorrow would be a significant achievement. However, while Duffy and co can be expected to give a good account of themselves, the Ospreys should still be strong enough to see them off.

Verdict: Ospreys

OSPREYS -- G Owen: J Vaughton, S Parker, A Beck, N Walker; D Biggar, J Nutbrown; R Bevington, R Hibbard, C Mitchell; I Gough (capt), I Evans; T Smith, M Holah, F Tiatia. Reps: E Shervington, C Griffiths, A Lloyd, J Collins, M Phillips, B Davies, T Prydie.

CONNACHT -- G Duffy; T Nathan, N Ta'auso, K Mathews, F Carr; I Keatley, F Murphy; B Wilkinson, S Cronin, R Morris; M Swift, B Upton; J Muldoon (capt), R Ofisa, G Naoupu. Reps: A Flavin, J Hagan, M McCarthy, J O'Connor, C O'Loughlin, A Wynne, L Bibo.

REF -- N Pearson (Scotland).

Ospreys v Connacht

Live, Setanta Ireland, tomorrow, 5.0

Irish Independent

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