Carty breaks away to score a late try against Munster. Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
primary goal

'We're well able to match any Pro14 team,' says Carty as he targets a higher grade of European rugby

The in-form out-half has sampled two runs through the Champions Cup pool stage and wants to double that during his new contract.

GETTING BACK INTO the Heineken Champions Cup is top of Jack Carty’s list of priorities after pledging his future to Connacht for the next two seasons.

He got a taste of Europe’s premier event in his breakthrough season in 2014 with runs against Zebre and Saracens. But Connacht have only made it back to the top table once since then.

Carty, having taken over from the departed AJ MacGinty, was first choice out-half in the 2016-17 campaign when Connacht failed to come out of the pool against Wasps, Toulouse and Zebre.

This is the second year in a row that they have been confined to the Challenge Cup and ahead of a home meeting with Sale Sharks on Saturday the goal is to rejoin the elite.

They have competed in the Champions Cup four times, the first three by virtue of Leinster’s success. But three years ago they made it on their own steam on the way to their historic Pro12 title. Just as was the case in that terrific season, the prime aim after narrow losses to Munster and Leinster is sealing a Champions Cup spot.

“First and foremost there is that, the year we won the Pro12 we (set out to) qualify for that. And once we got that, we had to reset our goals.

That is what we are looking at at the moment. But especially after playing this period at Christmas and even in September you can see we are well able to match any of the teams in both conferences. It really comes down to how you play on the day. Initially there will be that and once we do that then we can reset our goals.”

Carty missed out on that march to title glory after rupturing his spleen during a February holiday, but he knows that anything is possible once a team builds up a head of steam.

“That’s something that is always in the back of my head,” he says, “but that’s way back in the past. I am just concentrating on this run, three massive games ahead, and so were the three before but nearly every game now is important in terms of how tight the conference is.”

It remains to be seen if he will be facing MacGinty at the Sportsground this weekend — the Dublin native missed the initial clash in October at the AJ Bell Stadium with shoulder surgery which has kept him out since — but Carty knows they will need a big display.

Sale’s surprise loss at home to Bordeaux, having hammered the French side away the previous week, has opened up the pool with Saturday’s winners in a strong position to qualify for the knockout stages.

Jack Carty Carty in training at the Sportsground this week. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“You look at the names on paper, we would have watched James O’Connor playing Super Rugby, they have Faf de Klerk who is obviously world nominated player of the year, I don’t know if AJ MacGinty will be back but it would be nice to play against him.

“They have quality all over the pitch. They have English internationals so I think it will be a real test for us as the weekend gone was. It’s just about having real clarity in what we are trying to do.”

He has been in superb form all season and inking a new two-year deal didn’t require much thought for the 26-year old who came through the system at the Sportsground.

“It was a no-brainer given the ambition of the club, the players around me and you see the facilities that are being talked about, the brand of rugby that we are playing and then the performances that we have given this year.

“I was delighted to get it done as early as I could and really excited for the next two years,” he added.

Meanwhile, there was a further boost for Connacht yesterday when international lock Ultan Dillane also signed a new two-year deal.

The 25-year old, capped for the first time two years ago, has made 73 appearances since his debut in December 2014.

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