Welcome boost for Friend as Carty and Aki back

First, the good news for Connacht. Yes, there is some.

Welcome boost for Friend as Carty and Aki back

First, the good news for Connacht. Yes, there is some.

Andy Friend will have Bundee Aki and Jack Carty available next week when Toulouse come to Galway.

And Ultan Dillane, another player rested two days ago at the RDS, will be joined by Finlay Bealham and Matt Healy in a return to duty.

The problem is that Friend continues to lose healthy bodies as quickly as he welcomes others back. Conor Fitzgerald came off against Leinster on Saturday after hearing a “crack” on his ankle. His brother Stephen “did a knee” and John Porch departed the RDS with a knock.

It’s an unenviable state of affairs for a province that has been operating with just 26 fit players for much of the past month. Three losses in their three festive interpro fixtures shows just how hard that attrition rate has hit them but Friend isn’t worried about the ‘wheels falling off’.

“No, I’m not because we have a lot of fight and character in the group.

And we do have some bodies coming in. It’s a fine balance because we have to be realistic about the performance we produce but be realistic about us building and being challenged by tough European games and strong interprovincial games.

"Leinster, Ulster, and Munster are very good football sides and I’d suggest Ulster and Leinster are probably the pick of the teams in the PRO14 at the moment. We want to be up there with them but the performance there (on Saturday) says we have a bit of work to do. But we need to keep the confidence there and that is the fine line in terms of the balance.”

Connacht are still in with a mathematical shot of reaching the knockout stages of the Heineken Champions Cup but it is a statistical long shot and Friend was honest enough to admit that the three Guinness PRO14 games that follow this next two European weeks are more important now.

If Connacht are to return to the Champions Cup next year, then they need to start accumulating league points but there is no scope for any emergency cover from outside and that has left Friend to dig deep into the academy for assistance.

“At some stage we need to pin our colours to the mast and say we need to focus on the PRO14,” Friend said after his side’s 47-point loss to Leinster at the weekend.

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