Connacht boosted with return of internationals for visit to Rodney Parade

Connacht head to Wales on Saturday looking for a second successive away PRO14 win when they face the Dragons at Rodney Parade (5.15pm ).

Boosted by the return of some of their international players, Connacht will travel with confidence in the hopes of reproducing the type of performance that saw them stun Edinburgh at Murrayfield for the first time since the PRO12 winning season.

While some of that momentum may have been lost with last weekend's fixture against Benetton postponed due to Covid concerns in the Italian club, it is balanced with the presence of Connacht's available internationals, notably Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion, Ultan Dillane and Quinn Roux.

Fixtures against the Dragons have been tricky affairs in the past, and with new coach Dean Ryan making an impact at Rodney Parade, Conancht will not be taking anything for granted in this cross-conference clash.

Connacht defence coach Pete Wilkins says Connacht will be looking to take the best aspects of their win over Edinburgh to Newport, particularly the team's game management.

"The Edinburgh game was one of the best examples of game management they have produced, certainly in my time here," he says.

"This is a much improved Dragons side - there is a physicality about them, an organisation about them, there is a real desire to play with tempo, particularly through Williams at nine and Davies at 10, and there is an offloading game if you allow them to get to that point, so it will be a decent challenge for us, and certainly not one we are taking lightly.

"We have a fairly clear plan as to how we can go about this game, but at the same time we have to play well, and earn the right. Everyone is looking forward to it, we are really aware that preparation for us is key in having all those pieces of the jigsaw ready to go."

However, it is expected Connacht will look to their interntionals to provide leadership since the seven Connacht players returned to the Sportsground this week. with some earmarked for a possible start against the Dragons on Saturday.

Key players such as Bundee Aki will not be considered due to "managing the load on the back of the minutes" with Ireland - similarly Finlay Bealham and Dave Heffernan. As a result Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion, Ultan Dillane and Quinn Roux are likely to travel if all are fully fit.

With Caolan 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 weight 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.

He 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."

Abraham Papali'i

Another player looking to make an impact if selected is Abraham Papali'i, who Wilkins says made a really positive impact, despite his "rocky" first game against Munster in the Aviva.

"He's been a great addition. The power and the physicality around his ball carry are clear for all to see, even in those few minutes in the Munster game. With that comes the ability to offload and get others in the game as well, so that's certainly something we'll see more and more of as he gets more game time.

"The more time he's had training with us, the more that has improved and the more game time he gets, the more it will improve. Around the group, he's been a tremendous addition. He's a real character, keen to earn his stripes and prove himself to the lads,. He's very much a team player in that sense."

Connacht are also enjoying an improvement in their injury list with several players having returned to training. These include Matt Healy "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 brother Stephen Fitzgerald is also being integrated to training following a knee injury against Leinster. Long term injured backrow player Sean O'Brien is training after a stress fracture in his foot, but is being "managed carefully to make sure he is set

 

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