Connacht stick with Sportsground for European date with Leinster

While Leinster might look at bringing the second leg to the Aviva Stadium, Connacht are going to host the first battle at the Sportsground
Connacht stick with Sportsground for European date with Leinster

While Leinster might look at bringing the second leg to the Aviva Stadium, Connacht are going to host the first battle at the Sportsground

Connacht will stage their Champions Cup knockout tie against Leinster in April at the Sportsground and will not be seeking to move it to a bigger venue.

Capacity will be just over 8,000 for the first leg of the contest with Leo Cullen’s men and while Leinster might look at bringing the second leg to the Aviva Stadium, Connacht are going to host the first battle at the Sportsground.

Earlier this season they brought their home URC clash with Ulster to the Aviva Stadium and while the GAA grounds at Pearse Stadium in Salthill or MacHale Park in Castlebar might have been long shot options, their first ever knockout game in the Champions Cup will be staged at their Galway city home which will have its capacity increased to 12,000 when a €30m redevelopment is finally carried out.

Senior coach Pete Wilkins said that the clashes with Leinster — they are going to meet three times in four weeks with a league game in Galway as well in late March — were something to really look forward to.

“Fundamentally for us we love playing in the Sportsground and the atmosphere that’s generated there. It will be great, it’s great to have that on the horizon.

“For now, we’ve very much parked that European competition so it feels like a little way off yet and there’s really important rugby, especially over the next two weeks, that we have to focus on.

“But to be still in that competition and to have that opponent, that adds to the excitement for us as well. When the time comes it will be a really good occasion,” he said.

Connacht return to URC action this weekend when Denis Buckley, injured a minute into his 200th game last summer, is poised for his return against Glasgow on Saturday after recovering from a cruciate injury, while a couple of Irish internationals who missed their 37-31 loss away to Stade Francais on Sunday, Bundee Aki and Finlay Bealham, will be available for Six Nations duty.

“Finlay had an issue with his back and it was just a minor issue, but it was enough to keep him out for a week. So we didn’t want to risk him with the long travel and then obviously he was limited in his training leading up to that game. Finlay should be back and available for national team duties there.

“I’m not quite sure of the movements of the national team schedule but Bundee is available and is with them, rather than us,” he added.

Wilkins said that Jack Carty, in the international wilderness since he won his tenth cap against Russia at the 2019 World Cup, is in fine fettle heading into the Six Nations and he praised the way he has bounced back.

“I think there has been a fighting quality the way Jack has approached it since that World Cup. He is someone who is fiercely determined to improve himself and to improve his game.

“When you do have disappointments and setbacks in your career it is about finding where you focus that energy and where you put that frustration. He has certainly not blamed anyone and what he has done is looked really carefully in a practical sense to see what he can do to improve his game, whether that is in terms of his on-field performance, his skillset, his decision-making, his own approach and trying to find the one-percenters to keep getting better.

“So, where he finds himself now in terms of his performances and the opportunities that are hopefully coming his way is testimony to the way he has put that frustration to where he has directed that energy, so it’s a credit to him.”

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