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Preview: Ospreys v Connacht

Connacht pushed English champions Harlequins all the way last week – now head coach Eric Elwood is determined to go one better against the RaboDirect PRO12 champions.

The Galway outfit eventually went down 30-22 in European action against Quins, having picked up a win away to Zebre the previous week.

So far their domestic form has been up and down, having picked up a hugely impressive win over European champions Leinster last month but were also kept scoreless by RaboDirect PRO12 leaders Ulster.

Up against the Ospreys Elwood is expecting a big battle up front but called on his troops to maintain their recent improvement.

He said: “Over the years, we've had huge physical encounters with the Welsh side and we'll be expecting the same this weekend. It's another big challenge but we take great encouragement from our performances of the last few weeks.

“Last Saturday, we went toe-to-toe with the English champions and competed with them for the 80 minutes. We played some great rugby and we'll be looking to do the same this weekend against the Ospreys.

“We know it's going to be a hugely physical battle but we're very much looking forward to the test. The goal for us is to keep improving and continue on our upward curve.”

Elwood has made five personnel changes with youngster Darragh Leader earning his first start at full-back.

Brett Wilkinson and Jason Harris-Wright get the nod in the front row, while Eoin McKeon slots in at No. 8.

Robbie Henshaw switches from full-back to centre alongside newcomer Mata Fifita, who comes in for tryscorer against Quins Dave McSharry.

Steve Tandy has also been forced into changes with international pair Ryan and Adam Jones both out for the Liberty Stadium clash.

Aaron Jarvis, who was this week called up to the Welsh squad for the autumn internationals, starts in the front row while Joe Bearman steps in at blindside.

In the absence of two internationals Ospreys forwards coach Jonathan Humphreys admits it’s an opportunity for others to stake their claim.

He said: “I genuinely believe that it’s this time of the year where we’ve won some of our previous league titles, where boys have stepped in and stood up, many of them youngsters who’ve taken their chance and never looked back.

“You can list people like Hanno [Dirksen], Tips [Justin Tipuric], [Ryan] Bevington, [Ashley] Beck, even go as far as people like [Andrew] Bishop, Alun Wyn [Jones] and Ian Evans, they’ve all got their chance in the international break and never looked back.

“It’s an opportunity for players in the group and for supporters to see who is next on the block for us.

“Connacht are a very dangerous team, Eric Elwood has taken what was already a tough, physical group and looked to expand their game.

“We know that we are going to have be well prepared, diligent and focused if we are going to get what we want out of this fixture, and it’ll need to be a real team effort on and off the field.”

At Liberty Stadium, 2.30pm.
Referee: George Clancy (IRFU, 50th competition game)
Assistant Referees: TBC, Simon Rees (both WRU)
Citing Commissioner: John Charles (WRU)

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