Connacht missing front-line players for Edinburgh trip

Connacht's Eoghan Masterson may partner Gavin Thornbury in the second row  against Edinburgh.

Connacht's Eoghan Masterson may partner Gavin Thornbury in the second row against Edinburgh.

Life on the road for Connacht does not get any easier this week.

After a disappointing result against Cardiff, they now fly to the Scottish capital to face an Edinburgh outfit stinging from two defeats.

The Scottish side ran Munster close last time out, and they will view Sunday's match at Murrayfield (7.35pm ) as a must-win to get momentum into their Conference B campaign.

As a result Andy Friend's charges know what they will be up against, and they must do it without seven first-choice players. While Bundee Aki is the only Connacht player named in Andy Farrell's starting XV, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham and Ultan Dillane are named on the bench. Halfbacks Jack Carty and Kieran Marmion, and lock Quinn Roux, with a shoulder injury, miss out, but they are unavailable to Connacht while in the Irish set-up.

Friend will look to Conor Fitzgerald, who now fully fit, to fill the No 10 jersey. But the biggest issue is in the second row with both Cillian Gallagher and Niall Murray recovering from recent surgeries, and Oisin Dowling still unavailable. It leaves Gavin Thornbury as the last lock standing, and Friend says backrow Eoghan Masterson is a likely candidate to fill the gap, if Connacht cannot source a suitable temporary replacement.

"It is a big stress point, so we will make do," says Friend. "There are plenty of obstacles being thrown in everyone's way during this whole period and this is another one for us.

"We are having conversations with the IRFU [re medical joker] at the minute and waiting to get some finality on that."

Friend is hoping Connacht have learned some of the lessons from their defeat in Wales.

"Edinburgh and Cardiff play similar style of games, so we need to stick to game plan and stick to task. Those teams rely on giving them opportunity, and we are going to cop something similar and hopefully we have learned a lesson."

Although Edinburgh are also missing players on international duty, Friend says last year was similar.

"Edinburgh have not had a good start [this season], but we haven't won over there since I have been here, and it's something we'd like to break this weekend.

"They are a quality side, topped our pool last year, and I think the squad they have built is very good. We copped a side last year that had Scottish players missing as well, but they put five tries on us.

"So, we are not going there thinking this is an weakened Edinburgh side. We are going there knowing it's an Edinburgh side in Murrayfield and we will need to be very good to beat them."

Friend says Connacht need to learn to control key moments.

"It's no secret Connacht play an ambitious brand of rugby, we do things sometimes most other teams at the top level don't tend to do, but what makes Connacht "Connacht" is that we chance our arm a bit, but it is finding the right balance - to chance your arm at the right time.

"Last year against Edinburgh five tries to two, but you knew what they were going to do and that was another occasion we didn't control key moments of the game and they capitalised on our errors, so we must continue to learn from that."

Positive Covid test

It has been a difficult week for Connacht having its first positive Covid case in an Academy player who had been self-isolating for a week prior to his test. This has meant daily testing for all players and staff, and to date all have been clear.

"Probably bound to happen and it has now," said Friend,"but it has been dealt with very well. We continue to be really strict and diligent around our restrictions and guidelines that are in place.


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