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Dublin: 3 °C Wednesday 26 February, 2020
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Welcome break gives Connacht a chance to prove they're a force again

Andy Friend’s side were in beleaguered shape over Christmas and now meet close rivals in Conference B.

A RETURN TO Pro14 action may well feel a touch humdrum for a few players around Ireland this weekend after spending their energy pushing standards in international camp.

a-view-of-training Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Connacht, though, can ill afford to invite an off-Broadway ennui anywhere near their side. For the western province, the four-week break between fixtures was long overdue.

The 13-match block that helped their neighbours across the Shannon pick up more and more momentum, served only to drain and deflate the modest resources around the Sportsground. And so Andy Friend, who brought such a positive presence last season, is guiding a team seeking an end to a five-game losing streak.

Their last win tended towards the dramatic too, a last-gasp miracle of sorts gave Gloucester a severe punishment for easing off the pedal when they had already secured a bonus point at the Sportsground.

There have been positive flashes aside from the late flurry against the Premiership side during that run, but they never outweighed the feeling that Connacht were a team who were strapped up and soldiering on rather than stepping up.

Now they can change all that. But fifth-place Cardiff Blues will also sniff an opportunity as they sit just a point behind Connacht in Conference B.

Quinn Roux remains sidelined through injury, but the remaining personnel ought to be refreshed and primed to face the Blues (kick-off 19.35, TG4).

jack-carty-and-paul-boyle Paul Boyle and Jack Carty walk out for training. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Storm Dennis will ensure it’s a match tilted by packs and so Friend will be pleased to see  Ultan Dillane and Dave Heffernan returning sharp after returning from Ireland camp.  Gavin Thornbury joins the Kerryman in the second row ahead of a potent back row of Paul Boyle, Jarrad Butler and the departing Colby Fainga’a.

Tiernan O’Halloran, Matt Healy and John Porch will hope the soft track doesn’t scupper their running threat completely, but playmaker Jack Carty will look for the carrying power of centre Peter Robb to keep his side on the front foot.

In a season where his form has been under scrutiny, Carty will be keen on showing his game management skill. He would be well served to lean on Kieran Marmion’s experience in that area too. 

kieran-marmion Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The scrum-half has played minimal rugby since his potential move to Saracens was scuppered by their salary cap scandal.

If he can guide Connacht to a big performance against the side one point below them. And next week against Edinburgh, the team two places above, then Marmion and Connacht will already be settling back into a nice upbeat rhythm.

Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, John Porch, Kyle Godwin, Peter Robb, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; Paddy McAllister, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Gavin Thornbury, Paul Boyle, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (Capt)

Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Denis Buckley, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Joe Maksymiw, Eoin McKeon, Caolin Blade, Conor Fitzgerald, Tom Daly

Cardiff Blues: Dan Fish; Jason Harries, Rey Lee-Lo, Garyn Smith, Hallam Amos; Jason Tovey, Lloyd Williams (Capt), Rhys Gill, Liam Belcher, Dmitri Arhip, Filo Paulo, James Ratti, Josh Turnbull, Olly Robinson, Will Boyde

Replacements: Kristian Dacey, Corey Domachowski, Scott Andrews, Seb Davies, Nick Williams, Lewis Jones, Ben Thomas, Ryan Edwards

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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