Timely return

Ultan Dillane back in Connacht training and may yet feature on Ireland tour

The 23-year-old lock has been sidelined for the past 10 weeks with a shoulder injury.

CONNACHT HAVE WELCOMED Ultan Dillane back into team training this week ahead of Saturday’s Champions Cup qualification play-off against Northampton in Franklin’s Gardens.

The 23-year-old could yet feature on Ireland’s summer tour, despite not being named in Joe Schmidt’s squad today.

Ultan Dillane Dillane at Connacht training today. Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

Schmidt opted to name only three second rows in Devin Toner and the uncapped pair of Kieran Treadwell and James Ryan, but Ireland’s press release states that “one further player will be added to the squad following the weekend’s provincial fixtures.”

Given that just three locks have been named, it would make sense for Schmidt to add another second row to his squad next week and the return of 10-times capped Dillane for Connacht would therefore be timely.

While the likes of Leinster’s Ross Molony, Munster’s Billy Holland and others are likely be in contention, Dillane would certainly be in the mix if he can return to action with Connacht this weekend.

Dillane has been sidelined since February after undergoing shoulder surgery, but he has returned to Connacht training this week and will be eager to show Pat Lam that he is fit enough to feature against Northampton on Saturday.

Connacht have concerns over stalwart lock Andrew Browne this week, after he sustained a calf injury, meaning a return for Dillane would be even more welcome.

“The main thing for us is about Connacht and trying to make sure that he’s available for us if he gets through,” said Pat Lam of Dillane this afternoon in Galway.

“We’ve got the same with Browney, who has been one of our form players. There’s one place available there in the [Ireland] forwards, but that’s over to Joe – whatever position that may be.

“All the guys can control is playing well for us in a big game on Saturday. It’s a good platform to do it.”

Bundee Aki, John Muldoon and Conor McPhillips Aki won't feature this weekend against Northampton. Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

Connacht also welcome Matt Healy [hand], Niyi Adeolokun [hamstring], Peter Robb [hip], Steve Crosbie [groin] and Marnitz Boshoff [head injury] back into team training this week, but it remains to be seen if they will be involved against Saints.

“Potentially,” said Lam when asked if the returning players are available for selection. “We’ll see how they get through the week of training but we’re realistic, there’s a lot of things to factor in as well.

“Ultan has been out for 10 weeks, Matt Healy has been out 11 weeks, Niysy [Adeolokun] is four or five weeks, so we’ve got to weigh all of those things up. There’s no doubt we’ve got a few guys injured. Bundee [Aki] is not available as well, so there’s some issues in the backs we have to balance up as coaches and see how we get through.

“Hopefully, all going well, they’ll be in contention.”

New injuries for centre Tom Farrell [groin] and Shane O’Leary [foot] during training have not helped the backline options, although neither has been ruled out just yet.

In that light, Connacht did make an appeal against the influential Aki’s suspension last week, hoping to have the final week of the ban removed, but were unsuccessful.

“It was right to appeal, but we went through the process and they said no, so we move on,” said Lam. “It would have been good to have him with the midfielders we have struggling, but we live with that and move on.”

Connacht face a demanding task against the Saints, who finished seventh in the Premiership table to secure their European play-off spot, although victory would give the westerners a home play-off final against either Stade Français or Cardiff.

Pat Lam Lam believes his players are in the right place mentally. Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

Connacht’s form in recent times has not been hugely encouraging, with a 50-14 defeat away to Munster last time out a disappointing end to the Pro12 season for Connacht, who finished in eighth spot.

But Lam says he has seen enough from his players since the Thomond Park defeat to suggest better is to come against Saints.

“We’ve done it at different times but it hasn’t been consistent,” said Lam of Connacht’s season. “Whether that’s been really good games we have played or whether that’s been within a game. I think the confidence really comes from the week we have.

“We highlighted some things in that Munster game that we were all embarrassed by. It just wasn’t Connacht. What gives me confidence is the way the boys have responded so far and the quality of the sessions we’ve had since that game.”

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