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Dublin: 21°C Sunday 13 June 2021
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Connacht buoyant for bonus game against Ospreys

With a dearth of fixtures about, there is a sense of delight among players just to have a game.

Image: James Crombie/INPHO

THE SUN HAD set, but the first training session of the week was in the books and Andy Friend’s Connacht squad were still preparing themselves to take on Pat Lam’s Bristol.

Then the weekend’s rumours came to fruition a little after 5pm, the Champions Cup organisers dashed their looming slate of fixtures and it was time to rip up the plan for the short-term and start again.

A year ago this would seem like uncharted territory. It’s par for the course by now. By now, when nothing can be taken for granted, a genuine excitement swirls around matchdays.

Still, there are perks to be taken on board when those matchdays are whipped away.

“As much as I like you blokes, it was nice not seeing you for a week,” Andy Friend told his squad this past Monday having enjoyed a week away from the training ground before preparing for today’s Pro14 clash against the Ospreys (kick-off 3pm).

“We still had stuff going on but not having to be here was the break we all needed. Now there is a spring in the step with people bouncing in here and we’re looking forward to what this week might bring us.”

After the break, the week has brought back some big-hitters in the form of captain Jarrad Butler, who starts alongside Paul Boyle and Conor Oliver in the back row. Abraham Papali’i is back from suspension to take up a place in reserve and with no Jack Carty, Bundee Aki returns from a knee issue to be one of the three backs on the bench.

Butler’s return see the regular captain slip back into the metaphorical armband. In his absence, a silver lining was borne out as – on top of manifold other issues that forced them to adapt – more Connacht players were called to step up to lead.

“We’ve had numerous captains with players dropping out and we’ve all learned a little more about ourselves,” said Ultan Dillane this week.

“It’s been brilliant, we have so many leaders. We don’t panic over anything any more given how weird the year has been. It’s been refreshing.”

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nigel-carolan Nigel Carolan on the training field this week. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

No panic, but it would appear there is an abundance of genuine gratitude when players have the opportunity to play. While much of the country sits on standby for work or tries to continue their role at home, rugby players still have to engage in close physical contact. And they go home each day knowing they could bring a house of cards falling down if they contract Covid – a scenario that is impossible to accentuate the positive of.

“I dropped a voice message about this into the players’ group when we all tested (negative) again last week. I just told them I was so impressed,” said Friend before this week delivered another round of negative PCR tests.

“We had 90 tests and not one positive. It sounds easy but it is not, the community transmission is quite phenomenal out there.

“So to have had another clear week shows there are so many sacrifices being made, commitment from individuals which is unseen.

“We want to keep rugby going in Connacht and Ireland. It’s important for people to see us perform. And we have had performances which give the public a smile – we get the emails. We need to keep healthy to do that.”

Connacht: John Porch, Peter Sullivan, Tom Daly, Peter Robb, Alex Wootton, Conor Fitzgerald, Kieran Marmion, Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Quinn Roux, Jarrad Butler (Capt), Conor Oliver, Paul Boyle.

Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Matthew Burke, Conor Kenny, Gavin Thornbury, Abraham Papali’i, Caolin Blade, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy.

Ospreys: Dan Evans, George North, Owen Watkin, Keiran Williams, Mat Protheroe, Stephen Myler, Rhys Webb, Rhodri Jones, Sam Parry, Ma’afu Fia, Adam Beard, Rhys Davies, Will Griffiths, Justin Tipuric (Capt), Dan Lydiate.

Replacements: Ifan Phillips, Gareth Thomas, Tom Botha, Lloyd Ashley, Morgan Morris, Reuben Morgan-Williams, Josh Thomas, Keelan Giles.

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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