Confident Connacht will be wary of Ospreys this time round

Rugby: Pro 14

Over he goes: Kieran Marmion about to score Connacht’s second try watched by Niyi Adeolokun and Ruan Pienaar of Toyota Cheetahs  in action from the Guinness PRO14 game at the Sportsground on Saturday. Photo: Mike Shaughnessy

Over he goes: Kieran Marmion about to score Connacht’s second try watched by Niyi Adeolokun and Ruan Pienaar of Toyota Cheetahs in action from the Guinness PRO14 game at the Sportsground on Saturday. Photo: Mike Shaughnessy

Connacht head to Wales for the third time this season intent on continuing their winning momentum when they face the Ospreys in Swansea.

Since that opening day defeat to Scarlets, Connacht have strung together three bonus-point winning performances, and coach Andy Friend will want that to continue this weekend to maintain their top of the table position in Conference B.

Connacht still have memories of last year's 22-17 defeat to the Ospreys in Bridgend. Missed tackles, poor kicking, and too many turnovers proved costly, all the more frustrating coming as it did on the back of Connacht's historic win over Ulster. There is no doubt that performance will have been highlighted by the coaching staff this week as they return to Liberty Stadium needing to take advantage of a Welsh outfit missing some key players on World Cup duty.

Once again, however, Connacht have been hit by fresh injuries woes. Key locks Gavin Thornbury and Quinn Roux have both been ruled out, in addition to prop Finlay Bealham - all three having featured in Connacht's hat-trick of wins to date.

Thornbury is awaiting scans on his elbow and is due to see a specialist to determine how long he will be sidelined. Fortunately, there is no break, but according to Connacht's Pete Wilkins it could "potentially run into Champions Cup". Roux has a chest injury, which is expected to keep him out this week, while Bealham is to have a scan on his calf, and is "50-50" to play this weekend.

However Wilkins says Connacht are blessed to have players such as Ultan Dillane who has been on the bench to date this season, knowing the length of this block of 13 games will take its toll.

"We have faith in the guys coming through and the other players outside the 23 who have been pushing standards on the training fields. We known we will need a degree of rotation, whether forced or by natural wear and tear, it's part of the game."

If Dillane gets his chance this weekend, he could well follow Kieran Marmion and Tom Farrell who have taken their opportunities to make a statement. Both Marmion and Farrell were on the scoresheet in last weekend's hard-earned 24-22 win over the Toyota Cheetahs at the Galway Sportsgriund.

Marmion has picked himself up after missing out on the World Cup, and despite interest from several clubs, including Saracens, Connacht need to keep the 27-years-old at the Sportsground.

He made an impression on Saturday, scoring a try in his first start, while his speed was essential in supporting the team's wingers when they found space in the Cheetah's defence, while Tom Farrell, proved a match-winner when he came off the bench, scoring two tries to give Connacht the injury-time win and the bonus point which put them in pole position in Conference B.

The South Africans, however, were left to rue an ill-disciplined final quarter in which they lost centre Dries Swanepoel to a red card.

In a high octane encounter, there were worrying signs for Connacht when they lost their lead in the 55th minute as the visitors took control after reducing a 14-5 half-time deficit. Outhalf Conor Fitzgerald had galloped through the gap to set up the first try, combining with brother Stephen to send Niyi Adeolokun through for the opening try, which the No 10 converted.

Cheetahs took advantage of two consecutive penalties to touch before hooker Joseph Dweba touched down after 29 minutes. However the homeside replied when Adeolokun, in his first start this season, cut a path through the defence before the supporting Marmion finished off for try number two, which Conor Fitzgerald converted for a 14-5 half-time lead.

However, when Ruan Pienaar tacked on a penalty and the PRO14's top try scorer Rhyno Smith bagged his sixth of this season's tally, which the scrumhalf converted, the visitors led for the first time.

There was drama aplenty to follow, and ill-discipline played its part. Connacht's John Porch was denied a try following an intercept and length-of-the-field sprint when Kyle Godwin was deemed off side, before Cheetah's right wing Clayton Blommetjies extended the South African's lead to 22-14 with a third try, which Pienaar converted.

But when Cheetah's centre Swanepoel was red-carded, Connacht staged a late comeback and Tom Farrell delivered on two occasions. The last came when Connacht turned down the option to kick a penalty to draw the fixture, and instead opted to scrum twice under the posts. The result was a superb try from the electric centre - a huge reward for what Wilkins described as a brave decision by the players, led by Jarrad Butler.


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