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Connacht will trust their 2-4-2 after getting international injection

Tiernan O’Halloran and Kieran Marmion start against the Ospreys this evening.

HAVING BEEN DISMANTLED by Glasgow Warriors at the Sportsground last weekend, Connacht have an opportunity to get their Guinness Pro12 campaign back on track against the Ospreys in Galway this evening [KO 7.35pm, TG4].

The Welsh region enjoyed a 59-5 win over Zebre in their own round one tie, meaning they face Pat Lam’s men with a little momentum behind them.

International injection

Lam has made four changes to his XV in total, with the introduction of Ireland internationals Kieran Marmion and Tiernan O’Halloran being particularly welcome.

Bundee Aki and Tiernan O'Halloran Tiernan O'Halloran is back at 15. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Fullback O’Halloran was one of the stars of Connacht’s run to trophy success last season and won a hard-earned first Ireland cap on the tour of South Africa in June, although his debut was cut short by Willie le Roux’s challenge in the air.

Cian Kelleher, injured for this game, was excellent with ball in hand at 15 against Glasgow but certainly showed that he has much to learn defensively. O’Halloran brings attacking gifts but should also help shore up what was an extremely shaky Connacht back three last weekend.

Marmion, meanwhile, should relieve a little of the burden on out-half Jack Carty, who was partnered by the less-experienced Caolin Blade last weekend. Marmion’s sniping game will be of benefit, as will his understanding of the Connacht game plan.

The other two changes see James Connolly – impressive last season – and the stalwart Ronan Loughney introduced to the XV in place of the injured Nepia Fox-Matamua and Denis Buckley.

Trusting themselves

For much of the first half last weekend, Connacht looked in promising form. Their attacking shape was strong and they managed to cut Glasgow open on a number of occasions.

Pat Lam with Dan McFarland before the match Pat Lam with former Connacht man Dan McFarland. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Opportunities were missed, however, nowhere more glaringly than when Bundee Aki made a scintillating linebreak but then missed the open Kelleher to his right for a possible try.

The error count rose as Connacht’s fitness appeared to show up poorly, and Glasgow looked more and more comfortable with defending against and even taking advantage of the westerners’ 2-4-2 structure.

Connacht will be confident of bringing greater physical energy to this contest with the Ospreys after getting eighty Pro12 minutes under their belt, and will trust that their attack and defence systems can deliver again.

They have utter belief that their attacking skills and structures can cut any team open. Now they will look to add clinical finishing touches every time.

Qualter to mimic Muldowney

One of the biggest questions for Connacht leading into this season was who was going to fill Aly Muldowney’s boots.

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Danny Qualter dejected after the game Qualter after last weekend's defeat. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Firstly, Muldowney’s departure left Connacht without a tighthead-scrummaging, lineout-calling and abrasive second row. Secondly, the now-Grenoble man’s exit means Lam is without the main playmaking element of the midfield quartet in his 2-4-2 shape.

Muldowney’s decision-making and passing ability within that system was sublime at times last season, while his solid carrying meant he always had a genuinely strong back-up option.

Given first audition at filling in last weekend was Danny Qualter, who retains his place in the five shirt today. The 24-year-old is a good handler of the ball, but is obviously still learning his role when it comes to the intensity of a Pro12 contest.

There were some promising signs last weekend, although Qualter did see one tip-on pass intercepted by the Warriors. Against the Ospreys this evening, the former Ireland U20 lock will back himself to make good decisions more regularly.

Connacht:

15. Tiernan O’Halloran
14. Niyi Adeolokun
13. Eoin Griffin
12. Bundee Aki
11. Matt Healy
10. Jack Carty
9. Kieran Marmion

1. Ronan Loughney
2. Tom McCartney
3. Finlay Bealham
4. Ultan Dillane
5. Daniel Qualter
6. Eoin McKeon
7. James Connolly
8. John Muldoon (captain)

Replacements:

16. Dave Heffernan
17. Dominic Robertson-McCoy
18. JP Cooney
19. Lewis Stevenson
20. Rory Moloney
21. Caolin Blade
22. Shane O’Leary
23. Danie Poolman

Ospreys:

15. Dan Evans
14. Jeff Hassler
13. Ben John
12. Josh Matavesi
11. Eli Walker
10. Sam Davies
9. Rhys Webb (captain)

1. Nicky Smith
2. Sam Parry
3. Dmitri Arhip
4. Bradley Davies
5. Rory Thornton
6. Olly Cracknell
7. Justin Tipuric
8. Tyler Ardron

Replacements: 

16. Scott Baldwin
17. Paul James
18. Ma’afu Fia
19. Lloyd Ashley
20. James King
21. Dan Baker
22. Tom Habberfield
23. Dafydd Howells

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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