Structure and discipline key for Connacht against Ospreys

Craig Ronaldson scores a try against Zebre in the Guinness Pro12  at the Sportsground on Friday. 		Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy.

Craig Ronaldson scores a try against Zebre in the Guinness Pro12 at the Sportsground on Friday. Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy.

In one of the toughest Guinness Pro 12 challenges this season, Connacht face the Ospreys at Liberty Stadium on Saturday (1.30pm ) looking to break an 11-year losing run in Wales.

Connacht must go back to 2004 when they grabbed their only victory to the Neath-Swansea outfit at their former home, the Gnoll, and it is a statistic Pat Lam's squad needs to change to maintain their momentum.

"This test is right up there with Glasgow - they are the two teams we have not beaten in a while, so it's a massive test away from home," says Lam. "We have discussed the quality of the Ospreys, but it is always a hard place to go. It's been a long time since we won there, but the only way we can change that is by doing our jobs."

Connacht, however, will travel with confidence, knowing if they play to potential, maintain their composure and their structure, there may be no better time to post an elusive win over this Welsh outfit.

In contrast to Connacht's superb opening run with 16 points from a possible 20 during this World Cup period,  the Ospreys have bagged just five - four from last weekend's first win over Treviso. However with one of the biggest squads in the competition, there is no shortage of quality.

"It's one of those ones when we go away from home that we have to play as a team," says Lam. "We have put work into the way we want to play the game, put work into the game plan, so it's about having a good week's training, continue to build on the confidence we have, and getting out there and doing the job. 

Lam will not have his two Ireland World Cup campaigners Robbie Henshaw and Nathan White back this week, and is monitoring hooker Tom McCartney who has a gluteal strain.  However Jason Harris-Wright is fit and available, while prop Ronan Loughney, and Ultan Dillane both came through action with their respective clubs last weekend and are available for selection.

Lam will be looking for a structured performance from Connacht on Saturday, particularly in defence, where on previous occasions they have struggled with the Ospreys' ability to turn possession into points on the counterattack. He also will demand an 80 minute performance, particularly after last weekend's poor second half against Zebre, despite a comfortable 34-15 win - their third in four fixtures.

Leading 29-10 at the break and having already bagged the bonus point, Connacht's only score after the interval was posted in the 48th minute.

"Yes, we got the job done and that is pleasing, but we are also a team that is trying to be right at the top, and we have to be ruthless. It is important you put the foot on the throat and be disciplined, to stay in structures that work and to do your job, because it is easy for teams to slack off.  All the great teams don't, and that is what we aspire to be.

Connacht, however, produced another dominating display in the opening 40 minutes at the Galway Sportsground.  

Craig Ronaldson, a late replacement for outhalf Jack Carty suffering with a leg infection, stroked over a fourth minute penalty, before left wing Matt Healy crossed for the second. From a counter-attack in his own 22, Healy twice kicked ahead before finishing off in the seventh minute, with Ronaldson adding the conversion. 

There was a brief respite for the Italian visitors when Edoardo Padovani kicked a penalty just inside halfway after Connacht were pinged at the breakdown, but handling errors proved costly and Connacht profited. Healy was once again the chief protagonist, racing through to grab possession from Bundee Aki's kick ahead, and scrumhalf Kieran Marmion finished off under the posts.  Ronaldson added the extras before the home side added their third five minutes later. From a penalty to touch, Andrew Browne set up the maul with No 8 Conor McKeon claiming the try for a 22-3 lead.

The visitors responded before the break with a try from right wing Dion Berryman, but when Zebre loosehead Andrea Lovotti was binned, Ronaldson claimed the fourth try and bonus point, also adding the conversion.

Denis Buckley added try number five from an unstoppable driving maul within 10 minutes of the restart, but in a lacklustre second half, Connacht failed to add to their score.  Instead Zebre’s flanker Johan Meyer scored at the death from a quick tap penalty following Aki's yellow card.

Connacht: T O'Halloran, D Poolman, R Parata, B Aki, M Healy, C Ronaldson, K Marmion, D Buckley, T McCartney, R Ah You, Q Roux, A Browne, J Muldoon (cpt ), N Fox-Matamua, E McKeon.  Replacements, S Delahunt for McCartney (20-35 ), A Muldowney for  Browne (HT ), J Cooney for Marmion (49 ), S Delahunt for McCartney (52 ), D Leader for Poolman (54 ), F Bealham for Ah You (59 ), C O'Donnell for Buckley, and E Masterson for Fox-Matamua (all 59 ), N Fox-Matamua for Masterson (66 ), E Masterson for McKeon (69 ), C McKeon for Ronaldson (72 ).

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