United Rugby Championship: Connacht v Edinburgh
Saturday, Sportsground, 3pm
Stakes are increasing in Connacht’s bid to make the URC’s top eight when they entertain Edinburgh in the Galway Sportsground this afternoon (3pm).
Rugby director Andy Friend, coming to the end of his reign in Galway, says today’s fixture is the start of a massive block of games in the club’s need to nail down a playoff place. The home side have produced a strong run of victories in their last four outings, but now they face a Scottish outfit, currently in 12th place, and determined to close the gap.
“We’re where we want at this stage of the season, with our destiny in our own hands, knowing if we keep winning games then we reach playoff rugby,” says Friend.
Having won four in a row “there’s a real sense of momentum within the group”, he says, and Connacht will be looking to capitalise on the home crowd to maintain that winning run – helped by a sold-out main stand.
With Steve Diamond, having arrived in the Scottish capital this week as the lead rugby consultant, Edinburgh can be expected to make a more determined assault in their push for a successful end to their season. In their bid to inspire a revival in Edinburgh’s fortunes, the former Saracens and Worcester boss has been brought in to work alongside Mike Blair, who recently announced his intention to step down as head coach to pursue a career as an attack coach.
Edinburgh, having lost seven of their last eight URC games, will look to today’s fixture as a turning point in their season, particularly having lost several matches by seven points or less. They have been boosted with the return of international winger Darcy Graham, who has been out of action since December with a knee injury, while the side also boasts internationals Grant Gilchrist, San Skinner and Blair Kinghorn. South African tighthead Luan de Bruin also makes a return after recovering from a foot injury.
Connacht, just seven points ahead of Edinburgh, will need to be prepared for a full assault, and with six clubs all within 10 points of Connacht there is no better time to make home advantage count.
Friend has once again put his faith in a number of rising stars, alongside the experienced Caolin Blade, named as captain, Tom Farrell, John Porch, Peter Dooley, Jarrad Butler, and Conor Oliver. Talented youngsters such as Oran McNulty, Diarmuid Kilgallen and Cathal Forde are all included a backline which is all about Connacht looking to the future, with David Hawkshaw at outhalf.
CONNACHT: O McNulty, D Kilgallen, T Farrell, C Forde, J Porch, D Hawkshaw, C Blade (C), P Dooley, D Tierney-Martin, J Aungier, O Dowling, N Murray, C Prendergast, C Oliver, J Butler. Replacements: D Heffernan, J Duggan, D Robertson-McCoy, D Murray, S Hurley-Langton, K Marmion, T Daly, S Jennings.
EDINBURGH RUGBY: E Boffelli, D Graham, M Bennett, J Lang, D Hoyland, B Kinghorn, H Pyrgos, B Venter, S McInally, L Atalifo, S Skinner, G Gilchrist (C), B Muncaster, C Boyle, V Mata. Replacements: D Cherry, L de Bruin, WP Nel, M Sykes, G Young, B Vellacott, C Dean, N Sweeney.
Referee: Ben Whitebouse (Wales).