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Rejuvenated Carty key as Connacht take on Toulouse

Connacht will return to full strength as they aim for a repeat of their 2016 win over the four-time champs.

Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

HERE COME THE cavalry. 

And though they surely arrive too late to rescue Connacht from Champions Cup elimination, it’s well worth going out with a bang.

After a winter of discontent that has yielded just a single win – a result pulled from the fire at that – from the last five outings also delivered a punitive list of injuries. The most recent additions to the rehab room were the in-form Fitzgerald brothers Conor (out-half) and Stephen (back three).

However, along with news that the 10′s ankle injury is not as serious as first suspected, there are green shoots of optimism for the remaining Pro14 campaign. And in the immediate term, the arrival of Toulouse in Galway (kick-off 15.15, BT Sport) represents the sort of spark that can kindle a blazing last stand.

If this all sounds very final for a penultimate pool clash, we can make no sincere apology. Head coach Andy Friend has read the writing from the wall since going home from Gloucester pointless in early December.

It will take a mathematical miracle for the western province to progress to the knock-outs. Still, no harm in maintaining belief in miracles.

To start, they must beat Toulouse this afternoon, with a bonus point.  A winning margin of over 15 points would be ideal too. That would take the gap down to five with a trip to disinterested Montpellier ahead.

Leading the timely reinforcements for the hosts today will be Bundee Aki and Jack Carty, who were also in harness at 13 and 10 when the Westerners defeated Toulouse at this venue in 2016.

Niyi Adeolokun and Tiernan O’Halloran are also veterans of that epic come-from-behind win. There might have been a fifth back in common with that starting line-up, but Caolin Blade’s heavy workload will be eased by a move to the bench while Stephen Kerins takes over at nine.

It’s the man wearing 10 who the Connacht faithful must hope to see the very best of. Carty has shown signs of his inventive genius through the past month after experiencing a difficult comedown after Ireland’s travails in Japan.

With the Roscommon man now rested and recuperated after his first long stint away with Ireland, Friend expects the playmaker to hit his marks again.

“He was one of the shining lights last year for us and he got rewarded with that green jersey. He knows the recipe to get back there and I am sure he will give it a shot,” said the Australian.

“His last 20 minutes here against Munster was fantastic. He didn’t feel like he was fatigued, but he went away on that break and halfway through the break I’m getting texts saying ‘I didn’t realise I was tired Friendy, but I am feeling great now’.

“He has bounced back in here with Bundee, full of energy and can’t wait to get out there on Saturday. And I can’t wait to watch the pair of them. When they have got that energy back, which they have. You look in their eyes and they have got energy back. They are pretty special for us.”

jarrad-butler-and-tiernan-ohalloran Jarrad Butler and masked man Tiernan O'Halloran in training this week. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

While Carty and Aki will boost the inside part of the back-line, Matt Healy’s return will add extra cutting edge outside.

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Perhaps more importantly, the pack will be supercharged by the presence of fit-again captain Jarrad Butler, Finlay Bealham, a fresh from enforced rest Ultan Dillane and Lyon-bound flanker Colby Fainga’a.

Top14 giants Toulouse currently lead Pool 5 on 18 points and are ranked third in the push for the knockout stage. They have yet to taste defeat in Europe, but go west on the back of a home draw against Toulon and an away loss to Stade Francais.

Their team-sheet doesn’t reveal much vulnerability, certainly not in the big, powerful pack led by Joe Tekori, Jerome Kaino and Selevasio Tolofua who will set out to bully the hosts and impose a slow pace on the match.

Former Connacht man Pita Ahki will match up nicely opposite Peter Robb while the brilliant Cheslin Kolbe will be a severe test for Adeolokun’s defensive rating.

With Romain Ntamack among the replacements, Antoine Dupont and Zach Holmes will be tasked with steering the four-time champions through these choppy western waters.

The logical result would go the way of the European rugby dynasty. The Sportsground, though, is no place for logic. It is a prime location to ambush.

Connacht

15. Tiernan O’Halloran
14. Niyi Adeolokun
13. Bundee Aki
12. Peter Robb
11. Matt Healy
10. Jack Carty
9. Stephen Kerins

1. Paddy McAllister
2. Tom McCartney
3. Finlay Bealham
4. Ultan Dillane
5. Gavin Thornbury
6. Paul Boyle
7. Colby Fainga’a
8. Jarrad Butler (Capt)

Replacements:

16. David Heffernan
17. Denis Buckley
18. Dominic Robertson-McCoy
19. Joe Maksymiw
20. Eoin McKeon
21. Caolin Blade
22. David Horwitz
23. John Porch

Toulouse

15. Thomas Ramos
14. Arthur Bonneval
13. Sofiane Guitoune
12. Pita Ahki
11. Cheslin Kolbe
10. Zack Holmes
9. Antoine Dupont

1. Clément Castets
2. Julien Marchand
3. Charlie Faumuina
4. Florian Verhaeghe
5. Joe Tekori
6. Rynhardt Elstadt
7. Jerome Kaino (Capt)
8. Selevasio Tolofua

Replacements:

16. Peato Mauvaka, 17. Rodrigue Neti, 18. Dorian Aldegheri, 19. Rory Arnold, 20. Alban Placines, 21. Sébastien Bézy, 22. Romain Ntamack, 23. Yoann Huget,

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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