Connacht are facing an anxious wait for news of Jack Carty's availability for Saturday's New Year's Day meeting with Munster at the Sportsground in Galway.
The 29-year-old outhalf, who continues to pull the strings for Connacht, is rehabbing a foot injury. If unavailable, it is expected Conor Fitzgerald will step into No 10 position.
"We are still looking at Jack," says Connacht coach Andy Friend. "He ran today and ran well, so let's see how he pulls up, but the form he is in at the moment, you'd love to have him involved."
Connacht also have limited resources at scrumhalf where Kieran Marmion is the only regular in full fitness. Caolin Blade - along with backrow Sean Masterson and fullback Oran McNulty - is doubtful through illness.
In addition centre Peter Robb has suffered a shoulder injury in training, while hooker Dylan Tierney Martin's ankle injury will keep him sidelined for four months.
However, there is some good news with the possible availability of Aussie pair Mack Hansen (calf) and Ben O'Donnell (illness), and backrow Paul Boyle (shoulder/Achilles), who have all returned to training this week. It is hoped Tom Daly (knee) and Gavin Thornbury (shoulder) will not be far behind as they hope to return to team training during the new few weeks.
Having missed their Christmas fixture as a result of Covid cases in the Ulster camp, Friend says it was frustrating for several players who were due to make their first starts.
“We respect the decision made - it was the smart call for everyone involved - but it was frustrating. We were giving opportunities to some players, in addition to two players who were to make their first start, so we feel for them.
“One of the pluses and that we as a club are proud of, is having real ambition, and that ambition is always to field a rugby team. In the last two years we have had games called off, but we have not been the cause of those. Our ambition is to continue that run, so ideally this game will be played on the weekend.
“That is our intention, but as we know, it is a forever changing world. I also know Munster are keen to run given the lack of games they have had over recent weeks.”
Munster prevailed over Connacht at Thomond Park in October by 20-18 following a controversial try, and Friend says their visit to the Sportsground once again highlights the difference in the type of game the two outfits play.
“It is our intention to play our style of rugby, and I have no doubt Munster will play theirs. The set piece is where they see their avenue to get into the game, so we are very aware that it is a Munster style. But I have enormous confidence in our pack, and as we go through the season and get better, I think you will see less and less times when opposition targets it because the cracks won’t be there for them.
Friend says the key for Connacht is “not giving away easy access penalties, first and foremost don’t give them access points, and have the belief to play the game our way.”