Connacht head to high-flying Ospreys in return to Guinness Pro 12 action

Connacht Rugby are back on the road again to face the unbeaten Ospreys who are flying high in this season's Guinness Pro 12.

With a six-day turnaround Pat Lam's charges head to Liberty Stadium knowing they will have their work cut out for them in tomorrow evening's game (7.35pm ).

Steve Tandy's Ospreys have not had their wings clipped at home since January, and they boast the best scoring difference of any team in the Pro 12 which is reflected in their pole position.

Although missing nine players currently involved in Warren Gatland's Wales XV, Tandy still has considerable talent at his disposal.

Both sides enter tomorrow's fixture on the back of a disappointing loss in Europe - Ospreys having lost to Northampton in the Champions Cup, and Connacht to Exeter in the Challenge Cup.

It has been a difficult schedule for Lam to manage given the size of the squad, exacerbated by having a record five players in the Ireland team set-up this week. And prop Ronan Loughney has been ruled out with an ankle injury and is expected t be sidelined for three weeks.

However Lam also has the addition of new signing Bundi Aki in this selection sights this week, which is a welcome boost, while both Matt Healy and Dave McSharry, who was a late withdrawal last week, also will be available. And, having rested captain John Muldoon, Quinn Roux, and Eoin McKeon last weekend, Lam believes his side will be "buzzing" for tomorrow's big challenge.

Connacht, currently in fifth place, are enjoying their best start to the Pro 12 season, having only been beaten on the road by Glasgow. Having lost all nine previous visits, Liberty Stadium has never been a happy hunting ground for Connacht, and Lam will be keen to change that statistic this season. Away bonus points will become increasingly important as the season progresses.

Interestingly both coaches described their respective defeats in Europe as "blips".

Altough Connacht's performance was disappointing, Lam says the 33-13 loss to Exeter at Sandy Park was not a catrastophe.

"At the end of the day we are still alive in Europe. They have a point over us, but they have to come to Galway," he says. "Ultimately when we do things as a team, we are a good side, and that is the only way we can play, particularly when you come to a place like Exeter where many teams have struggled. We needed to play as a team and we didn't quite execute. Now we have an important game against the Ospreys, so we have parked the Challenge Cup until December."

Connacht went into the break 19-6 in arrears, having leaked a third try on the stroke of half time. It demonstrated the Chief's superiority in possession and confidence.

Outside the opening five minutes when Connacht took the lead through a Craig Ronaldson penalty, the hosts dominated the game and looked the more assured.

" We let in a couple of tries before half time through system errors, and at 12 - 6 it could have been OK, but they scored just before the break, and it was always going to be an uphill battle from there."

With nine changes on personnel - including a late withdrawal of Dave McSharry which necessitated a move for Danie Poolman to the centre to accommodate Fionn Carr - it was more the performance than the result which was unexpected.

"Today some are disappointed because they did not play as well as they could, but we are not the only team that does that. We don't have the same depth as others teams, and we knew this was potentially a big problem for us because of the six day turnaround."

Scrumhalf Ian Porter, recovering from a poor start in which two kicks were blocked down, launched a high kick to give Fionn Carr sufficient time to nail the receiver and win the penalty. Ronaldson converted from 45m out to take an early lead, but thereafter they provided Exeter with too many opportunities to score, committed too many unforced errors, and lacked patience to put the ball through the phases.

The Chiefs had responded by the ninth minute with the first of their five tries when scrumhalf Will Chudley snuck through a gap at the edge of the breakdown to score under the posts, which Gareth Steenson converted for a lead they would never relinquish.

As Connacht coughed up possession too easily, the Chiefs continued to make inroads, particularly in the backline thorough the inside pass. They capitalised yet again on lost possession to launch another attack which resulted in centre Henry Slade diving over from a ruck.

Connacht were rewarded with a well-struck Ronaldson penalty on 36 minutes after a sequence of Connacht phases, but four minutes later a rushed clearance provided the home side with another platform and Damien Welch delivered try number three. Man of the match Dave Ewers grabbed the bonus -point try within six minutes of the restart before Ben White completed the scoring by the 56th minute.

Replacement Jack Carty provided Connacht with decent field position in the second half from which Connacht were able to launch several attacks. Willie Faloon was denied when Carr's pass was deemed forward, but finally Pat Lam's men were rewarded when Carr marked his 100th cap for the province with an individual try in the 72nd minute.

Connacht v Exeter: D Leader, N Adeolokun, R Henshaw, D Poolman, C Ronaldson, I Porter, F Carr, D Buckley, J Harris-Wright, N White (cpt ), M Swift, M Kearney, A Browne, W Faloon, G Naoupu. Replacements, J Carty for Henshaw (HT ), A Muldowney for Swift (45m ), R Ah You for White and R Loughney for Buckley (50m ), D Heffernan for Harris-Wright (53m ), C Blade for Porter (59m ), D Qualter for Naoupu (60m ), C Finn for Leader (64m ).


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