Connacht welcome returnees as Tom Farrell ruled out for up to six weeks

Province on the lookout for a secondrow as they continue to manage big injury list

Bundee Aki is  fit to return for Connacht in this weekend’s Guinness Pro 14 clash with the Southern Kings at the Sportsground on Saturday. Photograph:  Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Bundee Aki is fit to return for Connacht in this weekend’s Guinness Pro 14 clash with the Southern Kings at the Sportsground on Saturday. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

 

An improving injury list is welcome news to Connacht this week when, in a brief respite from European action, the Southern Kings travel to the Sportsground for a key Guinness Pro 14 fixture on Saturday.

Six players of the 16 unavailable through injury against Toulouse in the Champions Cup defeat have returned to training this week, although centre Tom Farrell has been added to the list after suffering a minor fracture in his scapula. Although not as serious as first thought, he could be out up to six weeks.

It is a blow for the 26-year-old, who, in his third outing this season, opened Connacht’s account with a try last weekend against the French champions.

Connacht backs coach Nigel Carolan says Farrell has been superb for Connacht in a position where there is a lot of competition, and Bundee Aki, who did not travel to France due to a tight hamstring, is fit to go this weekend if needed.

Others returning to full fitness are wing Niyi Adeolokun, who has recovered from a leg injury, while up front there is more good news with captain Jarrad Butler, Denis Buckley and Rory Burke available, in addition to backrow Eoin McKeon.

With the Kings’ visit and the two back-to-back Champions Cup fixtures against Gloucester, Carolan says it is important to manage the squad over the next two weeks.

“Next week is massive for us in terms of the outlook of the Champions Cup as well because we really need to win the next two to give ourselves a shout. So although all our focus is on the Kings this weekend, which is important in the Pro 14, next week we go to Gloucester, and if we can win over there, they might be more disinterested the following week.

“So we have to fight on both fronts. This week is extremely important in the Pro 14, and then the Gloucester game away is a pivotal game in the Champions Cup, so we are trying to manage the team as best we can over the next two weeks.”

Carolan says despite the huge injury list, Connacht were “extremely disappointed” with the 32-17 defeat to the French champions last weekend in Toulouse.

“We weren’t a million miles away from arguably the best team in France, and for 60 minutes we put it up to them. Behind closed doors I think we were the only ones who actually believed we could have won when going over there.

“We had a plan that we knew, if we executed, was going to beat them and we did for a huge proportion of the game. But a lot of things happened in the second half – the weather, the penalty count started to mount up, and against the best team in France, they had the power to pick us off in the end. It certainly wasn’t their ability to create in the game and we felt really in control.

“We went over with great belief, and, yes, on the back of it we are extremely disappointed not to have come out with a victory, but it gives you great satisfaction knowing everyone else had written us off, that we were on the right road and we knew our prep and the squad we took over was there to do a job and came so close.

“But there are learnings in there too, the looseness that gave them the opportunities, a lot of penalties, and turnovers, so a lot of close margins we felt were in our control.”

However, Connacht are still thin on the ground in the secondrow. Although Quinn Roux returned to action last weekend, Connacht are still without locks Gavin Thornbury, Cillian Gallagher, and also Seán O’Brien. As a result Carolan confirmed Connacht are on the look-out to recruit another player.

“We need to keep our options open. We are actively looking, but it needs to be the right person,” he says.

Meanwhile, fullback Will Goddard, the former ACT schoolboys star in Australia, is still with Connacht on a trial period. He is expected to return to the Brumbies academy in January, but Carolan revealed, although here for the short term due to the injury to Tiernan O’Halloran, he is “keen to explore this side of the world”, having received an Irish passport.

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