Forde gets his big chance for Connacht today. Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
driving force

Connacht hope Forde focus can steer them closer to their destination

Youngster gets his chance in Jack Carty’s absence for today’s game against Glasgow.

THERE ARE TWO things Connacht can look for this season, people’s sympathy or a couple of quarter-final slots.

The former is easily won. All they have to do is point to their budget – smaller than every other Irish province, way smaller than the other 15 qualifiers for the Champions Cup knock-outs – and point to the structure of this season’s URC which is lopsided in favour of today’s opponent, Glasgow (kick-off 2.55pm, live RTE2, Premier Sport).

We’ve mentioned all this before but because it is so starkly unfair we’ll revisit the point again. Glasgow and Edinburgh play Italian sides Zebre and Benetton twice but Connacht get the chance to do so just once in this regular season. The Scottish teams also face Munster, Ulster and Leinster just once, whereas Connacht have the pleasure of their Irish provincial rivals’ company on two occasions. Four URC teams reached the last 16 of the Champions Cup this season. All four were Irish.

These things only really matter if Connacht miss out on a quarter-final spot in this year’s URC and by extension on a spot in next year’s Champions Cup. If they do, they have a right to grumble.

Edinburgh are currently top of the league – but have still to be tested against any Irish side thus far in this year’s competition. Glasgow are fourth but have played – and lost – to two of the Irish provinces. Connacht trail them by six points in the table.

For now, though, fate is still in their hands. They can look at the Glasgow line-up and note the presence of 12 Scottish internationals there and feel a little sorry for themselves, or, alternatively, they can seek to mark Tiernan O’Halloran’s 200th appearance for the club with another home win. Munster, Bulls, Stade Francais, Ospreys, they’ve all been upstaged in Galway this season.

caolin-blade-celebrates-with-tiernan-ohalloran O'Halloran (left) will win his 200th cap today. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“For sure this game is a really important one in the context of the URC standings,” agreed Andy Friend, their head coach.

“We don’t have many home games left so it’s crucial we pick up as many points as possible in these fixtures. The results of the last two weeks were disappointing so it’s up to all of us to ensure we do enough for 80 minutes to get the win.”

The absence of talisman and captain, Jack Carty, will hurt. Conor Fitzgerald isn’t around to deputise – so Cathal Forde, a youngster who played so impressively as an inside centre for Ireland’s Under 20s last year, gets his chance.

He’s a tough kid, unafraid to put his body in harm’s way, plus he has a thirst for knowledge. Speaking in June, he outlined how he was never shy to ask Bundee Aki and Carty for advice on those run-of-the-mill Tuesdays when the players would lounge around for a post-training coffee.

“Bundee and Jack really know their stuff and have been great to me,” said Forde. “I’m always looking for fixes for my game and if they spot them, they’ll call them out to me, give me a few tips.”

cathal-forde Forde in training this week. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

The best advice he can get today is to trust his instincts. Newcomers have a habit of being afraid to try something for fear of looking stupid. Forde can’t afford to fall into that trap. Connacht, never the most powerful side up front, depend on their half-backs to feed their endless supply of runners. It’s what sets them apart.

Despite missing some key individuals – Carty, Aki, Mack Hansen, Finlay Bealham, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Niall Murray, Cian Prendergast, Tom Daly, John Porch – there’s still plenty to like about Friend’s selection.

Seeing Denis Buckley back on the bench is a big thing. He has been missed this season. Seeing Alex Wootton on the field reminds you of the fine squad-building exercise Friend has engaged in. “Be relentless,” their coach constantly tells their players.

At home, they – by and large – have been, irrespective of who they have selected. That gives them a chance today. “Connacht are consistent at the Sportsground,” said Danny Wilson, the Glasgow coach. He’ll know not to underestimate them. Too many have made that mistake before.

Connacht Rugby: Tiernan O’Halloran, Alex Wootton, Tom Farrell, Sammy Arnold, Diarmuid Kilgallen, Cathal Forde, Kieran Marmion, Jordan Duggan, Dave Heffernan, Greg McGrath, Ultan Dillane, Leva Fifita, Eoghan Masterson, Jarrad Butler (CAPT), Paul Boyle

Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Denis Buckley, Tietie Tuimauga, Oisin Dowling, Sean Masterson, Colm Reilly, Shayne Bolton, Oran McNulty

Glasgow Warriors: Ollie Smith, Sebastian Cancelliere, Kyle Steyn, Sione Tuipulotu, Rufus McLean, Duncan Weir, George Horne; Oli Kebble, Fraser Brown (C), Enrique Pieretto, Kiran McDonald, Richie Gray, Ryan Wilson (CC), Thomas Gordon, Jack Dempsey.

Replacements: Johnny Matthews, Jamie Bhatti, Simon Berghan, Lewis Bean, Ally Miller, Jamie Dobie, Ross Thompson, Stafford McDowall

Referee: Nic Berry (ARU, competition debut)

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