Santiago Cordero expected to line out for first time in Connacht’s match against Stormers

Ireland international Mack Hansen unlikely to feature against South African visitors

Argentinian international Santiago Cordero is expected to line out for the first time in Connacht’s crunch URC fixture against DHL Stormers on Saturday.

Head coach Pete Wilkins says the 30-years-old fullback/wing enjoyed a full week’s training last week, and will be available for selection. “It is great news for Connacht, for him, and testament to the hard work he has put in to get back in such good time, so very positive there.”

However, the news is not so good for Ireland international Mack Hansen, who is not expected to feature against the South African visitors.

“Although 90 per cent there in terms of return to fitness”, Wilkins says his shoulder is not yet ready for contact in a match situation.


“Each week he is doing contact testing in relation to tackle, breakdown work and ball-carrying, and physios are treating him in between, and there is a lot of rehab going on. It really is a test on a week-to-week basis, firstly to see if he has functionality, and also to make sure he pulls up without ill effects from it.

“If I saw him for Leinster [May 31st] I probably wouldn’t be surprised, and if it was pre-season, I wouldn’t be surprised. It is not something we can predict at this point. Frustrating, but the important thing is to get him right.”

Connacht has also been hit with injuries to their scrumhalves. Matthew Devine has not been ruled out, but is “very doubtful”. Caolin Blade, who is suffering from a rib injury, is also in the doubtful camp, while Michael McDonald remains sidelined. Wilkins is also facing a similar wait on Tiernan O’Halloran, and definitely ruled out are Denis Buckley, Shane Bolton, JJ Hanrahan, Eoin de Butléar, and Diarmuid Kilgallon.

Good news, however, is the availability of Cian Prendergast. The 24-year-old backrow has returned to full training after a thumb injury, and is expected to play against the South African outfit on Saturday in a game Connacht need to win to maintain their chances of making the URC knock-out stages.

“The playoff starts this week, and that has been messaged to the playing group,” says Wilkins. “If we get two wins we will be confident of getting to where we want to be; if we get one we are relying on other results, which to do date haven’t done us too many favours. So for us it’s all or nothing this weekend.”

Facing into this final home fixture, Wilkins says last week’s big defeat to Munster was a blow to morale, and there is “no hiding” from it.

“The players need some picking up after that, but at the same time the scale of the game this week – in terms of playing one of the best teams, who also beat us in last year’s semi-final, [and] who come loaded with their Springboks, last home game of the season in front of the Clan Stand and Dexcom Stadium, and with a presentation of leaving players on the field after the game. There is so much noise around this game, some is positive, some negative, and some in between.

“In a way, ironically, it makes this an easier game to prepare for mentally because it will only go right for us if we remain totally present and totally focused on the rugby aspect of what is coming this week. And if we train well, and if players prepare well physically, and we have a really smart game plan, we can put all of that energy into it. If we do that we will tick all the other boxes that are buzzing around us. If we get distracted by all the narratives then you start to see energy going in different directions.”

Wilkins says it is key Connacht now take opportunities to get possession.

“If you look at the stats around the tackling we had to do, not just in the first 30 minutes, we burnt a huge amount of fuel. We didn’t take opportunities we were potentially creating, so whether fielding high balls, delivering ball off the top from lineouts, kicking to touch, or drop balls – all of those aspects are chances for us to assert pressure on the opposition rather than just fire-fighting, and that will be crucial against the Stormers.”