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Connacht happy with depth for next season but Buckley injury a concern

Mack Hansen and Leva Fifita will join the province this summer.

Mack Hansen will join Connacht from the Brumbies.
Mack Hansen will join Connacht from the Brumbies.
Image: AAP/PA Images

WHILE CONNACHT STILL have one game left in their 2020/21 campaign, with the Ospreys visiting Galway tomorrow, their planning for next season has been ongoing for some time.

There will be new staff in forwards specialist Dewald Senekal, defence coach Colm Tucker, and assistant attack and skills coach Mossie Lawlor, while Pete Wilkins will shift from his current job in charge of the defence to the new role of senior coach, which involves running Connacht’s attack.

Academy players Cian Prendergast, Dylan Tierney-Martin, and Oran McNulty are being promoted from the academy into the senior squad, while Alex Wootton is joining permanently after spending this season on loan from Munster.

There will also be two new additions from abroad, with Irish-qualified back Mack Hansen signing from the Brumbies in Australia and Tonga international lock Leva Fifita joining from Grenoble in the French Pro D2.

Fifita will replace the outgoing Ireland international second row Quinn Roux, while Hansen’s arrival will offset the loss of Stephen Fitzgerald to enforced retirement.

As things stand, that’s it in terms of recruitment ahead of next season and Connacht head coach Andy Friend says he’s pleased with the squad he will be working with.

“Yeah, two new signings but we’ve got some academy boys coming through. I am happy with the squad,” says Friend.

“We’ve been building for the last three years since I’ve been here and it certainly happened before I got here – trying to keep the right people here and bring in fresh faces to add to the squad.

“I’m really happy with the squad that we’ve got. Next year, they’ll be a year older and a couple of new faces in Mack Hansen and Leva Fifita. Yes, we’ll have a little bit of adjustment with a new coaching group coming in but we will have clarity for the players and I think we’re in a good spot to move forward.”

denis-buckley-leaves-the-field-due-to-an-injury-on-his-200th-appearance-for-connacht Denis Buckley was injured last weekend. Source: Elena Barbini/INPHO

One area of concern for Connacht fans will be at loosehead prop after Denis Buckley picked up what looked like a serious knee injury last weekend against Benetton on the occasion of his 200th cap.

Buckley was due to visit a surgeon this week for a further scan, with Connacht hoping it may have been only an MCL injury rather than a ruptured ACL, but Buckley is facing some time out of the game.

An ACL injury would keep him sidelined well into the start of next season and Friend hinted that such a scenario could leave Connacht in trouble.

“It’s the one position – this is how it always works too – where we don’t have the depth there. This year, we’ve got eight props. Next year, we targetted to have seven props and if you lose one of your key men early on in Denis, that’s six.

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“That’s probably too few so we’re going to have to wait and see what may happen there, it’s all dependent on the injury.”

It may be that Connacht are forced to dip back into the market for a loosehead but in the short-term, Friend is keen for his side to finish this season with a win.

“One of the things is that the players are very aware there’s an Irish squad being named in a week or two weeks’ time, so we’ve got a chunk of players who I believe are able to be named in that,” said Friend. “But performance is everything, you’ve got to put your hand up and there’s motivation in that.

“There’s also motivation and pride in the jersey and what we’re about. We’ve had real highs and real lows this season but normally when we’ve had a low, we’ve bounced straight back. Maybe we’ve over-celebrated those highs because often the next week we have a real low.

“It’s been an up-and-down season but I think our motivation will be fine.”

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Murray Kinsella

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