Connacht look to address their lack of consistency this season when they head to Ravenhill to face familiar foes Ulster in the new Rainbow Cup.
After what head coach Andy Friend describes as an "embarrassing" performance in their Challenge Cup loss to Leicester, he says there is much riding on the first three interprovincial games of this new tournament. And, he says, there is no suggestion of using it simply to give youngsters game time.
“We are picking teams to win. We need to get our game consistency back and our overall game performance, so we will be picking our best players,” he says.
"Certainly for these first three games, Ulster, Leinster and Munster, [they are] three massive games for us. There is a lot riding on it for us as a province, and for individuals who want to be getting on an Irish summer tour in July. So plenty to play for and we will be picking the teams we think will be the best to deliver."
Having dissected the 48-32 loss to Leicester, Friend says Connacht failed to turn up with their A game.
“Credit to Leicester. They had a bunch of kids out there and that was the frustrating thing for me. Their bunch of kids showed a few of our blokes, who are not kids, that this is how rugby should be played, and this is the level of aggression and hunger you need to bring into a game.
“Now that is hard – that is hard for us as a province, hard for me as a head coach, hard for individuals to cop that lesson in such a public forum, but that is the reality of it.
“We turned up and we didn’t deliver, so we all own that. It was embarrassing, and we don’t want to be embarrassed again.
“Those are the chats we had – that is just the way of a normal rugby week, to be honest. It is forever going on, but let’s hope we keep taking those little steps forward which goes into producing some better performances, and let’s hope it starts on Friday night.”
The Rainbow Cup will also see the introduction of new laws, which Friend says will be “somewhat tricky” for Ulster and Leinster, who are playing Challenge and Champions Cup games under different laws.
“I have been watching Rugby Aotearoa and seen a couple that have worked well, so we will see how it plays out. I understand the reasons are to try to get more ball in play, but at the end of the season, let’s have a look to see if there is any more ball in play, or has it just become a kicking fest.
“The intentions are good. We all want to see rugby being played and not all the stoppages that rugby currently has, but I’ll hold my judgment whether we are getting that at the tail end of the season.”
Bundee Aki continues to be sidelined following his red card when playing with Ireland in their Six Nations match against England on March 20th, while captain Jarrad Butler is available if he recovers from a lower leg injury. Quinn Roux remains ruled out following shoulder surgery.
Though he is yet to re-sign, Friend says Connacht are hopeful Roux will remain at the Sportsground.
“Our intention is Connacht definitely want Quinn to stay here because he’s a hell of a personality and a hell of a player. We are really hopeful he will be here next season, and we are waiting again for probably another few weeks before we make a decision on that.”