Its a huge match for Connacht rugby chances of getting into the pro14 playoffs so nothing but a bonus point win will suffice against The Ospreys at the Sportsground.
Experienced lock Andrew Browne comes back into Kieran Keane’s Connacht line up for the Guinness PRO14 clash with in Ospreys in the Sportsground on Friday (Kick Off 7:35pm). Also back from injury, James Cannon and Craig Ronaldson come back in to the second row and out half respectively.
With Bundee Aki away on international duty, Tom Farrell and Eoin Griffin form the centre pairing. Likewise, with Kieran Marmion’s absence, Caolin Blade starts at scrum half.
Having recently announced that he will retire at the end of this season, John Muldoon will captain the side from his number 8 position. He will be joined in the back row by Eoghan Masterson at blindside and openside Naulia Dawai.
During the next block of four games, Connacht take on three of their Conference rivals, including a trip to South Africa to take on the Cheetahs. Head Coach Kieran Keane is well aware of the importance of the upcoming fixtures and the need to get off to a good start against the Ospreys. “We are up for this game, we know the importance of it”, he told reporters at the pre-game press conference. “This is a really important block of games for us and will have a big bearing on our PRO14 season. We have a Quarter Final in the Challenge Cup to look forward to later in the season but there is a lot of rugby to play before that, so our focus is firmly on the league at the moment”.
Ospreys go into the game sixth, one place off the bottom, but one place and three points behind Connacht.
Former Ireland hooker Clarke said: “We know what we need to do over the next four weeks if we want to achieve our goal of qualification for the Champions Cup next season.
“We have to continue the improvement in performances that we saw in December and we have to win games, it’s as simple as that.
“The qualification spot is definitely still up for grabs.”
Clarke added: “It’s true that we are running out of games so it’s important that we get the results we need.”
Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, Cian Kelleher, Eoin Griffin, Tom Farrell, Matt Healy, Craig Ronaldson, Caolin Blade; Denis Coulson, Tom McCartney, Conor Carey, Andrew Browne, James Cannon, Eoghan Masterson, Naulia Dawai, John Muldoon (capt).
Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Peter McCabe, Dominic Robertson McCoy, Gavin Thornbury, James Connolly, James Mitchell, Jack Carty, Pita Ahki.
Ospreys: Dan Evans; Hanno Dirksen, Kieron Fonotia, Ashley Beck, Dafydd Howells; Sam Davies, Tom Habberfield; Rhodri Jones, Scott Otten, Dmitri Arhip, Lloyd Ashley, James King, Olly Cracknell, Will Jones, Rob McCusker (capt).
Replacements: Sam Parry, Nicky Smith, Ma’afu Fia, Guy Mercer, Sam Cross, Reuben Morgan-Williams, Luke Price, Joe Thomas.