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Thursday 2 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Sighinolfi Luca/INPHO Shane Delahunt wins his 100th Connacht cap this evening.
# Season Finale
Wise heads and future stars on show as Connacht clash with Ospreys
Andy Friend’s men won’t be short of motivation despite this being their last game of the season.

EVERY TEAM NEEDS players like Shane Delahunt. The Birr man gets on with everyone, makes people laugh, and is a savagely committed and tough team-mate. His slick offloading skills are among the bonuses.

Connacht’s clash with the Ospreys in Galway this evening [KO 6pm, TG4] might have been seen as one the western province would find it tough to get motivated for, given that it’s the final game of their Rainbow Cup campaign and a disappointing season overall.

But Delahunt reaching the 100-cap milestone for Connacht is just one reason Andy Friend’s men are likely to be up for this one. The 27-year-old, who played hurling for Offaly at underage levels and then rose through the rugby ranks in Kilkenny College, is very popular within the squad and they’ll be keen to mark his milestone in style.

Friend noted this week that several of his players will have hopes of featuring in Ireland’s two Tests against Japan and the US next month, meaning there is also plenty of individual motivation for the likes of Tom Daly, Caolin Blade, Ultan Dillane, and Alex Wootton as Andy Farrell watches on.

Bundee Aki, meanwhile, is looking to convince Warren Gatland that he’s getting back towards full sharpness ahead of the Lions tour to South Africa.

This Connacht team includes young players keen to finish their promising seasons on a high, with Cian Prendergast, Niall Murray, Peter Sullivan, and Jordan Duggan – whose importance grows after Denis Buckley’s injury – in the starting XV and Jack Aungier, Oisin Dowling, and Sean Masterson to come off the bench. 

Friend will be backing those young guns to become the stars of this Connacht team in the coming seasons and a positive impression in Galway this evening would leave them in a happy spot heading into the summer. 

cian-prendergast James Crombie / INPHO Cian Prendergast has shone for Connacht recently. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

The wise heads of relative veterans like Jack Carty, Delahunt, captain Jarrad Butler, and Eoghan Masterson provide balance in Friend’s final selection of the campaign against an Ospreys side who are still in the running for a place in the Rainbow Cup final.

Toby Booth’s men have beaten Cardiff Blues and Dragons in this competition – as well as losing to Scarlets – and they will have travelled to Ireland with some belief, particularly given that they won in the Sportsground in the Pro14 in January, when scrum-half Rhys Webb was central to a 26-20 victory.

That game was a thrill to watch for neutrals and though weather conditions may not be as favourable this time around, both of these teams like to move the ball at a high tempo.

More of the same would be welcome as Connacht look to end 2020/21 with a bang.

 Connacht:

15. Alex Wootton
14. Peter Sullivan 
13. Bundee Aki
12. Tom Daly
11. Ben O’Donnell
10. Jack Carty
9. Caolin Blade

1. Jordan Duggan
2. Shane Delahunt
3. Dominic Robertson-McCoy
4. Niall Murray
5. Ultan Dillane
6. Cian Prendergast
7. Jarrad Butler (captain)
8. Eoghan Masterson

Replacements:

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16. Jonny Murphy
17. Matthew Burke
18. Jack Aungier 
19. Oisin Dowling
20. Sean Masterson
21. Kieran Marmion
22. Conor Fitzgerald
23. Sammy Arnold

Ospreys:

15. Dan Evans
14. Dewi Cross
13. Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler
12. Joe Hawkins
11. Luke Morgan
10. Stephen Myler
9. Rhys Webb (captain)

1. Nicky Smith
2. Sam Parry
3. Tom Botha
4. Adam Beard
5. Bradley Davies
6. Will Griffiths
7. Morgan Morris
8. Ethan Roots

Replacements:

16. Ifan Phillips
17. Gareth Thomas
18. Ma’afu Fia
19. Rhys Davies
20. Sam Cross
21. Reuben Morgan-Williams
22. Luke Price
23. Max Nagy

Referee: Mike Adamson [SRU].

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