Reluctant return of Ireland players boosts Connacht

On the one hand, Andy Friend is delighted that only Bundee Aki is missing on Six Nations duty as Connacht prepare for a real 10-pointer against a Cardiff Blues side who are just below them in the table.

Reluctant return of Ireland players boosts Connacht

On the one hand, Andy Friend is delighted that only Bundee Aki is missing on Six Nations duty as Connacht prepare for a real 10-pointer against a Cardiff Blues side who are just below them in the table.

But at the same time, he would be just as happy if more of his troops were unavailable because of Ireland matches, regardless of how important it is to get a win at the Sportsground (7.35pm).

Conancht are fourth in the table, a point ahead of this evening’s opponents, and were boosted this weekend by hooker Dave Heffernan and lock Ultan Dillane being released from Irish camp to play.

“Our desire is to have five players-plus in the Ireland matchday 23,” said Friend.

“That is what we said at the front-end of the year.

At the minute, we have one. We have had David and Ultan up there with the camp. Both men and others have been exceptional throughout the course of the year, and hopefully that will translate into selection for them.

Connacht, having again failed to come out of their Heineken Champions Cup pool, have all their sights set on the PRO14 now, aiming to qualify for the knockout stages and also secure their place in Europe’s premier event.

“The message is simple,” said Friend.

“We have three games, win three out of three and we are in a healthy spot, win one or none, and we are in strife.”

The return of Dillane and Heffernan means that seven of the starting side have been capped by Ireland, and Friend needs that level of experience to count against a Cardiff side who have always been dogged and frustrating opponents for them.

CONNACHT: T O’Halloran; J Porch, K Godwin, P Robb, M Healy; J Carty, K Marmion; P McAllister, D Heffernan, F Bealham; U Dillane, G Thornbury; P Boyle, C Fainga’a, J Butler.

Replacements: S Delahunt, D Buckley, D Robertson-McCoy, J Maksymiw, E McKeon, C Blade, C Fitzgerald, T Daly.

CARDIFF BLUES: D Fish; J Harries, R Lee-Lo, G Smith, H Amos, J Tovey; L Williams; R Gill, L Belcher, D Arhip, F Paulo, J Ratti, J Turnbull, O Robinson, W Boyde.

Replacements: K Dacey, C Domachowski, S Andrews, S Davies, N Williams, L Jones, B Thomas, R Edwards.

Duncan and Duncan Rugby Podcast: Mike Sherry's dream career and injury nightmare. Hidden talent in the AIL

More in this section

Sport
Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up
IE_logo_newsletters

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox