Connacht set to get international boost for trip to Rodney Parade

A number of Ireland players in line to return for game against the Dragons

Connacht expect to welcome back some of their international players for Saturday's Pro 14 fixture against the Dragons at Rodney Parade.

The Connacht septet based with the Ireland camp returned to the Sportsground this week, with some earmarked for a possible start against the Dragons.

"We do expect to have some of the Ireland boys back, they have all been around this week," says defence coach Pete Wilkins. "We've got a fair few of them who we expect to be available."

However, key players such as Bundee Aki have not been actively involved due to “managing the load on the back of the minutes” with Ireland.

“We will not be considering Bundee on the back of those selections and also the minutes that he’ll have to come,” added Wilkins.

Finlay Bealham also had game time off the bench in the first two games, as did hooker Dave Heffernan, but the remaining players, if injury free, will be considered for selection.

As a result Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion, Ultan Dillane and Quinn Roux are likely to travel if all are fully fit.

With Caolin Blade having produced a man-of-the-match award in Connacht's recent 37-26 win over Edinburgh in Murrayfield, the scrumhalf selection will be tough, says Wilkins.

“You look at Caolin Blade’s performance against Edinburgh – man-of-the-match, brilliant in all aspects from his kicking to his running game, his consistency in passing, his defence – it’s hard to justify leaving him out. But on the other hand you’ve got Kieran Marmion back champing at the bit and he’s an international player ready to go, so you have to weigh up both sides.

“It’s a good problem to have, and we don’t always have them, but these days we are having more and more of them.”

Wilkins says the returning internationals all have their individual points to prove, but also have “real hunger to contribute to the Connacht cause”.

“There is an incentive for them to perform well to help our cause, but also to put their best foot forward in terms of international selection. Normally you get these guys back at the end of the campaign or camp, but there are more games on the horizon for them, so there is motivation everywhere.”

Connacht are also enjoying an improvement in their injury list with several players having returned to training. These include Matt Healy, who is "looking sharp" after recovering from a calf injury, Peter O'Sullivan, who was pulled last week due to a leg injury, and Sammy Arnold, who has completed return to play protocols for concussion.

Conor Fitzgerald has responded to treatment for a groin strain, while his brother Stephen is also being integrated to training following a knee injury against Leinster. Long term injured backrow player Seán O'Brien is training after a stress fracture in his foot, but is being "managed carefully to make sure he is set up for a long stint back in the side". Tiernan O'Halloran remains sidelined with a hip injury.

With last weekend's match against Benetton postponed due to Covid-19 cases in Italy, Connacht head to Wales in search of a second successive away win following their 37-26 victory in Edinburgh.