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The URC is back after the international window and Connacht are back with a huge InterPro away to Munster in Thomond Park on Saturday.
Huge Munster Clash
Connacht finished the opening seven-week stint with some momentum but kicking off this stint with an away trip to Thomond is far from ideal, regardless of Munster’s form.
Munster may have had a kick start to their season when they defeated South Africa A in Parc Ui Chaoimh in a spirited performance. I think some Munster fans tend to leave out the A in South Africa A but nevertheless, a fantastic win and a lot of their youth flourishing in that game. It gave hope and confidence going forward and it may have given Graham Rowntree a reason to stick with the youth going forward. They also now have the question of Crowley or Carberry raring its ugly head. I personally think they will stick with Joey, but it will now be a constant question for Rowntree and his staff.
Return of Irish internationals
Connacht will be boosted by the returning Irish Internationals, but early reports are Mack Hansen is a doubt with a thigh injury.
Having the likes of Bundee Aki back from suspension and his decent showing against Australia is also a huge boost for the trip to Thomond.
Bundee is such a leader for this team and even though I think he tries almost too hard sometimes to make an impact, there is no denying Connacht have a much higher ceiling when he is on the field.
Finlay Bealham and Cian Prendergast are also huge additions and if both are good to go, will start on Saturday. Mack would obviously be a huge loss but with the in-form John Porch on one wing and either Adam Byrne or Alex Wootton on the other, its still two very decent options to fill Mack’s boots.
Tiernan O’Halloran is out with a hip injury so who plays at full-back will be interesting.
John Porch would be my call, but Andy Friend and Pete Wilkins seemed to have moved away from that.
Alex Wootton has played there before, and Oran McNulty has also had a few games at the position. Conor Fitzgerald has had some very successful cameos at full back and tends to play well in big games so I would guess he will be the man to replace Tiernan.
Huge six games left in 2022
This next stint is a huge one for Connacht. Two league games in a row against Munster and Benetton and then two Challenge Cup games against Newcastle and Brive, then followed by two huge InterPro’s with Ulster and Leinster to finish off the year.
Connacht should be eyeing the Challenge Cup as a potential trophy.
It won’t be easy, but they are good enough to do it and would be an amazing way to finish off Andy Friend’s coaching tenure.
Then in the URC you have three InterPro’s in the next four games.
Getting points, no matter if they are even losing bonus points, is so key if Connacht are to continue their push for top eight. Connacht’s schedule from February to the end of April is full of winnable games and is the easier half of their season, getting to that point still in the hunt is a must.
I am sure that is what Andy Friend will be telling his players. They break the season up into stints so this coming stint is all they will be thinking of.
If they can get to the end of January and still be in the hunt for top eight, then it’s all systems go for the final push for the season.
Of course, the team’s attention will be for Thomond this Saturday and getting the double over Munster which would be huge. Connacht will be taking it game by game as the cliché goes.
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