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Connacht hoping for change in form with return of key players

Matt Healy and Niyi Adeolokun are close to a return ahead of Friday’s clash with Ulster

Connacht’s Matt Healy could return to face Ulster after suffering a groin injury. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

Connacht are awaiting a medical update on flanker Jake Heenan who limped off Parc Y Scarlets after the two sides produced a nine-try fest last weekend.

Heenan, in only his second game of the season after recovering from a back problem, suffered a knee injury in Connacht’s late 36-27 defeat to the Scarlets.

Having been sidelined in previous seasons with two separate shoulder injuries, the 25-years-old former New Zealand U-20 captain will see a specialist this week, but is expected to be ruled out for Friday’s meeting with Ulster.

Now Irish qualified, he joins another eight players currently on the sidelines, but some good news is the possible return of Pro12 winning winger Matt Healy, having recovered from a groin strain.

Defence coach Peter Wilkins says Healy has returned to full training and will be assessed later in the week to determine his availability. Also close to a return is Niyi Adeolokun, who is involved in “modified contact”, while lock James Cannon, scrumhalf James Mitchell, and backrow Naulia Dawaii are progressing, but not available this week.

With just one win from their first five outings, Connacht’s defensive errors have proved costly, and it does not get any easier with the season’s first interprovincial at Kingspan Stadium on Friday.

Wilkins, formerly with Queensland Reds and Edinburgh, is expecting a huge physical contest, heightened by personal battles and provincial pride.

“Physicality is something we have come to expect and are preparing for. Our defence is a work in progress. Is that an excuse for not winning games? Certainly not, but each week we are seeing improvements.

“The biggest issue for us defensively is when our slips have come, they have been pretty obvious slip-ups, soft moments. That has been disappointing, but on the plus side they are controllable. It’s about decision making and making sure we wrest control of those big moments in games rather than letting teams off the hook, having put them under consistent pressure.”

Wilkins says those key moments have been the difference between winning and losing.

“They have cost us games, and our challenge is to make sure we are good 10 times out of 10 and we can bring consistency. We are making good progress every week, but you’d like it to be quicker. We will get there, and that’s why you are not seeing anyone pushing the panic button.”

It cannot come soon enough with Ulster on the horizon.

“Certainly they have some key players, depending on who’s fit and who is selected. Stuart McCloskey is a big factor at 12; Charles Piutau is a super athlete and explosive with ball in hand; and Christian Lealiifano, whom I have coached against in Super Rugby, is a really good No 10 with a nice balance of passing and kicking, and equally someone who can take the ball to the line and also play through the line.

“There are lots of different threats, but for us it’s about a heightened awareness around certain areas of our system, and making sure we do it consistently across the 80 minutes.”