Setback for Connacht as Quinn Roux ruled out of crunch Cardiff clash
Tom Farrell and Bundee Aki in line to play as province chase Champions Cup place
Tom Farrell has been cleared to play after an eye injury in last weekend’s one-point victory over Zebre. Photograph: Inpho
The Ireland secondrow player had been expected to return to Connacht for Saturday’s possible season-defining match, having had a two-week break following the Six Nations campaign. However Connacht now report the 28-years-old South African is unlikely to feature after falling ill with a virus.
“He’s just been crook for the last couple of weeks,” says Connacht coach Andy Friend. “He did have a sinus infection, so we thought the break would get him over it, but he’s come back and he’s just not right.
“He’s away at the moment, getting himself checked out. We want to make sure everything is okay with him before we put him under the pressures of a game, so at this point in time, he’s very unlikely for this weekend.
“It’s a real shame, and for him too, because he’s been in the international set-up this year. There’s a lot of competition for that secondrow spot and he’d love to be playing, but if the body is not letting you, we have to listen to that, so that’s where it is at.”
As expected prop Finlay Bealham is also ruled out for this penultimate Conference A challenge as he continues to recuperate from the recent hand laceration that required 14 stitches.
“Finlay had an infection, but it is all cleared. He had a few days in hospital, but he’s out now, and they are happy with everything that has been done to it. It’s now just a matter of that to heal.”
Good news, however, is centre Tom Farrell has returned to the training pitch, having been cleared to play after an eye injury in last weekend’s one-point victory over Zebre. And talismanic centre Bundee Aki will make a timely return to face a highly dangerous Cardiff XV, which Friend says possesses threats all over the field.
Having suffered an 8-7 defeat in Cardiff in January, Connacht now boast a four-point lead in the chase for the quarter-finals. It ensures Connacht will claim the third spot in Conference A and a Champions Cup place if they record a 12th win of this season’s campaign on Saturday.
“You probably couldn’t script it better,” says Friend. “ Both teams vying for third spot. We need to win to keep it, and they know if they lose, they can’t get it. So there is a lot riding on this one.
“We will do everything in our power to get the win and secure that spot. If it doesn’t happen, we have to front up in two weeks and make sure we do it in Thomond Park, but our intention is to do it on Saturday.”
After a poor performance against Sale in the Challenge Cup quarter-final, and last weekend’s lucky win over Zebre, who missed three kicks at goal, Friend believes his squad will respond positively, as they have done all season.
“Was I was pleased with the performance against Zebre? Yes, the way we were allowed to play, I was, but we know it was not the clinical Connacht we want to be, and every time we have had that situation, I feel we have responded well and bounced back the next week. So in a weird way, it is probably a great result to have had. We got the four points, we know we could have played better, and now we come to this game knowing there is a bit of growth to happen there.
“The intensity of the session today was probably one of the highest this season. There is a lot of anxiety and a lot of energy, and I hope we are going to get a good reply.”
In the battles between the two clubs Cardiff have prevailed 23 times; Connacht 6, but Friend insists Connacht are now on a different path.
“I have heard of the Cardiff-Connacht battles, and Cardiff tend to win them, but we are finding ways to win, to throw those hoodoos out, and create our own path, which is what it is about this year. It’s all well and good to look at the history books, but we are a different football team and we continue to grow and stretch. There’s everything for us to play for this weekend, a home game in the Sportsground, and I know the boys are going to be up for that.”
Meanwhile academy players props Matthew Burke and Conor Kenny, and outhalf Conor Fitzgerald, have signed their first professional contracts with the province for the 2019/20 season. They follow Paul Boyle’s graduation to the senior squad earlier this season.