United Rugby Championship: Connacht v Ospreys
Kick-off: 7.35pm, Friday. Venue: Sportsground, Galway. On TV: Live on RTÉ 2, Premier Sports.
It’s been a week of landmarks down Connacht way. Jack Carty signed a new three-year contract, hooker Dave Heffernan will make his 150th appearance, fullback Oran McNulty his first start, while 21-year-old South African born Shayne Bolton makes his debut.
McNulty (21), a former Ireland Under-20 international, is an exciting player and will certainly add sparkle to a back three long on attacking talent. Alex Wootton and Mack Hansen, who spent some time with the Ireland squad recently, are both talented footballers.
Bolton, whose grandmother hailed from Dublin, joins Sammy Arnold in the centre. Carty and Heffernan were called in as injury cover to Andy Farrell’s squad during the Autumn Nations series and now get a chance to remind the Ireland head coach exactly what they can do in a match context.
Niall Murray is maturing into a fine prospect while Ultan Dillane is another Connacht player who trained with Ireland during the November tests. The backrow will provide a notable presence at the breakdown and in the wider channels.
Connacht head coach Andy Friend said: “Ospreys have made a really good start to their season and they’re always difficult to play against, so everyone knows we have to push on from our interpro performances to get the win we need.
“Shayne Bolton has settled in really well since arriving from South Africa so he’s deserving of a start, and it’s a special game for Dave Heffernan and Ballina RFC on the day of his 150th appearance.”
The Ospreys, led by scrumhalf Rhys Webb, have improved under the stewardship of former London Irish coach Toby Booth who ventured: “We know it’s all about benchmarking ourselves against the Irish provinces. We went there and won in the sunshine and went there in the Rainbow Cup and lost. They are a very, very good team and well coached.”
If Connacht can remain patient and disciplined and eradicate the silly mistakes then they can claim the win.
Connacht: O McNulty; A Wootton, S Bolton, S Arnold, M Hansen; J Carty, K Marmion; M Burke, D Heffernan, F Bealham; N Murray, U Dillane; J Butler, C Oliver, P Boyle. Replacements: S Delahunt, J Duggan, J Aungier, O Dowling, E Masterson, C Blade, C Fitzgerald, P Robb.
Ospreys: D Evans; M Nagy, O Watkin, J Hawkins, L Morgan; S Myler, R Webb (capt); N Smith, E Taione, T Botha; B Davies, R Davies; S Cross, J Morgan, E Roots. Replacements: S Parry, G Thomas, R Henry, W Griffiths, M Morris, R Morgan-Williams, J Thomas, C Evans.
Referee: B Blain (Scotland).