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Can Connacht take the next step? It all starts tonight in Cardiff

Andy Friend’s men are aiming to reach the knock-out stages of the URC this season.

Image: Robbie Stephenson/INPHO

ROUND 1 OF a new season and already Connacht have had to test their squad depth due to a fairly hefty batch of injuries.

Absent: Denis Buckley, Gavin Thornbury, Leva Fifita, Caolin Blade, Bundee Aki, Alex Wootton, Peter Robb, Sean Masterson, Colm Reilly, and Sam Illo.

The injuries to senior scrum-halves Blade and Reilly mean sub-academy halfback Hubert Gilvarry is set for his debut off the bench this evening against Cardiff [7.35pm, TG4/Premier Sport].

Connacht fans know all about injury crises but head coach Andy Friend isn’t looking at it as anything other than a challenge early on in the new season. Instead, the westerners are awash with optimism about pushing forward and earning a home quarter-final in the new United Rugby Championship.

With a batch of key players sidelined, opportunity beckons for others like Sligo man Gilvarry.

The truth is that Connacht will need more luck than they’re accustomed to on the injury front in this 2021/22 season, while they also need to find the kind of consistency that has eluded them in recent seasons. Those issues go hand-in-hand to a large degree.

Tús maith leath na hoibre applies tonight at Cardiff Arms Park where a win would be welcome as Connacht begin life under a refreshed coaching team which includes South African lineout and maul specialist Dewald Senekal, as well as defence coach Colm Tucker and skills coach Mossy Lawlor, both of whom were promoted from the academy.

Head coach Andy Friend has handed lots of responsibility to Pete Wilkins, promoted to the role of senior coach to run the attack after previously being in charge of the defence.

jack-carty-during-the-warm-up Jack Carty starts at out-half in Cardiff. Source: Robbie Stephenson/INPHO

Connacht are missing several players tonight but there is still plenty to like about the team they’re sending out in Cardiff, with Irish-qualified back Mack Hansen set for his debut on the left wing after joining from the Brumbies.

Outside centre Tom Farrell barely got a chance to play last season due to injury but he is a game-breaker and had pushed himself into the Ireland mix before that nightmare spell on the sidelines.  

Cian Prendergast is one to watch this season in the Connacht back row, while 24-year-old loosehead prop Matthew Burke gets just his second start for the province with Buckley a long-term injury absence. Friend is optimistic Connacht will add another loosehead to their squad soon.

Connacht have plenty of opposition quality to contend with tonight as Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty go up against an all-Welsh international halfback pairing of Lloyd Williams and Rhys Priestland, who is making his debut after joining from Bath.

The majority of Cardiff’s combinations are familiar with each other and Connacht can expect a real test of their midfield defence from the dangerous pairing of Rey Lee-Lo and Willis Halaholo.

This is Dai Young’s first full season as Cardiff’s director of rugby, having joined back in February, and they have ambitions of closing the gap to the URC’s top teams.

With a punchy-looking bench to call on, as well as home advantage, Cardiff are favourites for this one.

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Cardiff:

  • 15. Hallam Amos
  • 14. Owen Lane
  • 13. Rey Lee-Lo
  • 12. Willis Halaholo
  • 11. Jason Harries
  • 10. Rhys Priestland
  • 9. Lloyd Williams
  • 1. Corey Domachowski
  • 2. Kirby Myhill
  • 3. Dmitri Arhip
  • 4. Seb Davies
  • 5. Matthew Screech
  • 6. Josh Turnbull (captain)
  • 7. Ellis Jenkins
  • 8. James Ratti

Replacements:

  • 16. Liam Belcher
  • 17. Rhys Carré
  • 18. Dillon Lewis
  • 19. Rory Thornton
  • 20. Will Boyde
  • 21. Tomos Williams
  • 22. Jarrod Evans
  • 23. Max Llewellyn

Connacht:

  • 15. Tiernan O’Halloran
  • 14. John Porch
  • 13. Tom Farrell
  • 12. Tom Daly
  • 11. Mack Hansen
  • 10. Jack Carty
  • 9. Kieran Marmion
  • 1. Matthew Burke
  • 2. Shane Delahunt
  • 3. Finlay Bealham
  • 4. Oisin Dowling
  • 5. Ultan Dillane
  • 6. Cian Prendergast
  • 7. Conor Oliver
  • 8. Jarrad Butler (captain)

Replacements:

  • 16. Dave Heffernan
  • 17. Jordan Duggan
  • 18. Dominic Robertson-McCoy
  • 19. Niall Murray
  • 20. Paul Boyle
  • 21. Hubert Gilvarry
  • 22. Conor Fitzgerald
  • 23. Sammy Arnold

Referee: Andrea Piardi [FIR].

Bernard Jackman, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey look ahead to the inaugural United Rugby Championship, and a massive weekend for Ireland in their bid to qualify for the Women’s Rugby World Cup.


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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