Friend to roll the dice as Dragons hit the Sportsground

Connacht and Ireland scrumhalf Kieran Marmion will line out against the Dragons on Saturday to help his match fitness following his ankle injury  against Ulster. 					Photo by Be Evans/Sportsfile

Connacht and Ireland scrumhalf Kieran Marmion will line out against the Dragons on Saturday to help his match fitness following his ankle injury against Ulster. Photo by Be Evans/Sportsfile

Connacht coach Andy Friend is prepared to "roll the dice" in his selections this week ahead of the Dragons' visit the the Sportsground on Saturday.

After last weekend's disappointing five-point defeat to an Ospreys' side shorn of its current internationals, Friend says changes will be made to his squad.

"We need a mountain of energy and a really good performance [against Dragons], so there's a fair chance we will make adjustments.

"One of the things we talk about is rewarding good performances, but if the players don't give us that energy, there's a fair chance they won't be playing the next game. We do roll the dice with that too, but I believe in being firm with it. There's no point saying it, and not doing it, so in having some adjustments it gives others opportunities, and allows us to keep everyone honest."

Paid the penalty

Friend believes the players had expected to win given the Ospreys' selection, but such assumptions will not be repeated against Bernard Jackmen's visiting Dragons, despite having lost five of their seven outings to date and jointly sitting on the bottom of Conference B with the Southern Kings.

"The bottom line is we let ourselves down there, individually and collectively, and paid the penalty. As a group we put a pin in the ground and said 'unacceptable'. Everything had been great. We had been working hard, getting bounce, priding ourselves on our work-rate and that had been our norm, and now all of a sudden that happens, and you say you say 'ugh, ugh, that's not acceptable' and there will be some repercussions.

"From the league table, yep, it's an opportunity missed, an away game, we got a point out of it. Could it have been more? Yes. Should we have got more? Yes, we should have, but we have games in hand to make up that deficit, but it's put the pressure back on us."

The difficulty with the Ospreys, says Friend, was was the assumption Connacht would win.

"So we have said, 'dispel the assumptions boys. You have to turn up. It doesn't matter if it's a pro game, whether it's another team sitting at the bottom of the table. Whoever it is, you still do the same work against every single team.' We have to be that team, and last weekend it showed we are not that team yet, but we will be."

Connacht will be without its trio of travelling internationals to Chicago, Bundee Aki, Quinn Roux and Finlay Bealham, but Kieran Marmion will line out against the Dragons.

"Marmion had that injury which stopped him playing 45 seconds into the Ulster game, so he needs footy and we will be keen to give him a run."

Lock Gavin Thornbury has returned to training after a shoulder injury, but is not yet available, while Eoin McKeon has suffered a setback with his shoulder injury requiring surgery. No 8 Paul Boyle has also suffered a shoulder knock and will miss Saturday's game.

Player preparation

Friend says the lessons from last week's loss will be learned, particularly in players' preparation.

"In life there are moments, and with every moment you get a choice to make at that time to give you an outcome. It was fairly obvious in the build-up to the game [Ospreys] and during the game, in key moments players made choices that produced a poor outcome.

What needs to change is the choice, he says. "Do I work hard, do I walk there or run there, do I eat that extra bit of meal on the night before the game, do I go to bed go at that time or not? There is no skill required, but until it is drilled into the players that is the way you have to live your life as a professional footballer, sometimes we fall in these traps and that is what we did. We fell into a a lull, self inflicted, and we have to make sure it doesn't happen again."

It was a bitter lesson in what was defined as a season shaper. Losing to Ospreys 22-17, Connacht have fallen into fifth place in Conference A, and while still within easy reach of the top four, it was a real opportunity lost.

Connacht, with 10 changes from last week’s Challenge Cup side, had fought back in the second half to draw level with just minutes remaining, but the Ospreys’ Corey Allen made a vital break up field and fullback Dan Evans was awarded the try on consultation with the TMO.

It had been an out-of-sorts display from Connacht with too many mistakes, yet they showed incredible self belief to grab the momentum in the second half and come back from 17-3 down to draw level after a poor first half.

Connacht foothold

Ospreys, playing in Morganstone Brewery Field and missing their Welsh internationals, caught Connacht off guard early with a try from left wing Keelan Giles after the home side, having blocked down Tiernan O’Halloran’s attempted clearance inside the Connacht half, quickly spread the ball wide and the 21-years-old winger finished after some slick handling.

The home side continued to control possession and were rewarded when he added a second try - this time outhalf Sam Davis provided the clever chip behind the defence and Giles raced down the wing to claim possession and dot down.

Davis missed both touchline conversions before Connacht got a foothold in the contest with Jack Carty opting for three points from a drop goal after 12 minutes. However they were unable to capitalise on a penalty to touch minutes later when the home side successfully held up a driving maul just short of the line, despite the added weight of some Connacht backs.

Before the break a huge defensive effort from the Ospreys prevented Tom Farrell touching down after Connacht’s most sustained period of play. A dominant scrum and two penalties paved the way to a series of attacks on the Ospreys’ line, but Connacht were unable to capitalise with some big hits from the home side’s back row led by Rob McCusker and Ollie Cracknell.

Although the home side was reduced to 14 men after a high tackle on Cian Kelleher, Connacht struggled to make it count, and the Ospreys went further in front with Allen finding space before providing scrumhalf Harri Morgan with a dream debut as he raced in from 10 metres to bag a third try, which Davis converted for a 17-3 lead.

Eventually Connacht gained some momentum, a series of penalties provided a territorial control before Quinn Roux claimed the line-out and the pack piled forward with Bundee Aki touching down, When Carty converted, it brought Andy Friend’s side within seven points after what had been a disappointing display. Two minutes later with their tails up captain Jarrad Butler provided real hope to Connacht when he crashed over from a maul, and Carty’s super conversion from near the touchline put the sides level. In the end, however, Connacht had to content themselves with a bonus point.

Ospreys : Evans; Dirksen, Allen, Thomas-Wheeler, Giles (Williams 69 ); Davies, Morgan; Jones (Thomas 71 ), Otten (Baldwin 62 ), Botha (Jeffries 71 ), Ashley (Ratti 69 ), King, Lydiate, Cracknell, McCusker (Ratti 37-40 )Replacements not used: Volpi, Aubrey, Hook

Connacht: O’Halloran; Adeolukin (Godwin 55 ), Farrell, Aki, Kelleher; Carty, Marmion (Blade 50 ); Buckley (O’Donnell 79 ), McCartney (Delahunt 57 ), Bealham (Carey 67 ), Dillane, Roux (Cannon 69 ), O’Brien, Boyle (Faingaa 11 )Replacement not used: Fitzgerald

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