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Dublin: 9 °C Sunday 26 January, 2020
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Resources stretched, but Connacht rich in creativity with Carty and Fitzgerald in side to take on Gloucester

The western province were unable to claim a point on their travels and Andy Friend can feel his resources getting tighter.

Connacht players in the gym this week.
Connacht players in the gym this week.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

IF THERE IS to be a miraculous comeback, then it starts here.

Connacht’s Champions Cup campaign, which looked so healthy until around an hour into their visit to Toulouse, is dangerously close to seeing its end. 

Last weekend’s bonus point loss leaves them with just four points after three matches. A maximum return from here on out is an extremely tall order and even then they would need results and points tallies in other pools to fall kindly.

As long as it remains possible, though, Connacht and their high-tempo, frenetic all-action style are tough to rule out fully. Head coach Andy Friend, who spoke about the confidence struggles of Jack Carty in the wake of the loss in England, has rolled the dice with his selection.

The Ireland international is moved from 10 to fullback to accomodate the in-form Conor Fitzgerald and the move to twin playmakers promises no shortage of excitement in Connacht’s game when they take the field at the Sportsground at 12.45 (BT Sport) Saturday.

John Porch, who was a bright spark for the western province when deployed as a makeshift fullback, reverts back to the wing. It’s in the pack where the strains of the six-day turnaround are felt as Friend retains just two of the eight who started in Kingsholm and a 6-2 split on the bench signals an intent to finish strong.

Gloucester have been thinking along the same lines, mind, with Danny Cipriani, Franco Mostert and Ben Morgan among six front-liners bumped to the bench. The Cherry and Whites, on the verge of meeting their European fate last weekend, can now count themselves in the hunt for a quarter-final.

Without wishing to sound like Our Tory Friends, Europe is not the be all and end all. And the way Connacht’s away fixtures have panned out in recent weeks there is a growing sense that they would be best-served by shifting focus off the Heineken Cup and onto the Pro14. Plough onwards from their current second-place in Conference B to qualification for the Champions Cup in 2020/21 rather than attempting to spin both plates.

Of the four provinces, Connacht are the one who must cut their cloth the tightest. Friend highlighted that fact last month when noting that he and his team travel to Dublin for a commercial flights while their inter-pro rivals charter planes and can fill them out with supporters club and other stakeholders.

connacht-players-watch-the-academy-squad-train Connacht players peer out to watch the academy train. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

There is an acute awareness of resources on the field too, particularly in a season in which Connacht are beset by injury. Colby Fainga’a suffered a recurrence of a knee injury and joins a group of sidelined players that includes Matt Healy, Tom Farrell, Sean O’Brien, Gavin Thornbury, Cillian Gallagher and Tiernan O’Halloran.

The benefit of that stretch comes for 20-year-old Athlone man Niall Murray who gets a place on the bench. Quinn Roux has been taken out of the firing line after playing all 80 minutes for three straight weeks. Friend clearly feels he is running the second rows hard as it is without pushing his primary lock to the limit.

“We’re working off three second rowers and we’ve got to manage those men too,” the Australian said post-match on Sunday.

“When you have only got three fit and available for you they are getting every rep in training as well. You can wear them out of you are not careful.

“So it is just how we manage those things as well. We want to be winning in the Sportsground, there’s no doubt about that. It’s a game we want to win and I still feel that if everything goes our way we can still get our out of this pool.”

Whatever happens from here on for Connacht, they’ll be well worth watching.

Connacht

15. Jack Carty
14. Niyi Adeolokun
13. Kyle Godwin
12. Bundee Aki
11. John Porch
10. Conor Fitzgerald
9. Caolin Blade

1. Peter McCabe
2. Dave Heffernan
3. Dominic Robertson McCoy
4. Ultan Dillane
5. Joe Maksymiw
6. Eoin McKeon
7. Jarrad Butler (Capt)
8. Paul Boyle

Replacements

16. Shane Delahunt
17. Denis Buckley
18. Finlay Bealham
19. Niall Murray
20. Eoghan Masterson 
21. Stephen Kerins
22. Tom Daly
23. Robin Copeland

Gloucester

15. Matt Banahan
14. Louis Rees-Zammit
13. Billy Twelvetrees
12. Mark Atkinson
11. Ollie Thorley
10. Lloyd Evans
9. Callum Braley

1. Josh Hohneck
2. Todd Gleave
3. Fraser Balmain
4. Alex Craig
5. Gerbrandt Grobler
6. Freddie Clarke
7. Lewis Ludlow (Capt)
8. Ruan Ackermann

Replacements:

16. Franco Marais
17. Alex Seville
18. Jamal Ford-Robinson
19. Franco Mostert
20. Ben Morgan
21. Joe Simpson
22. Danny Cipriani
23. Chris Harris

Referee: Romain Poite (France)

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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