Connacht seek to clip Ospreys' wings in rescheduled PRO14 fixture

 Bundee Aki will be hoping to feature for Connacht on Sunday if he is fully recovered from a knee injury.

Bundee Aki will be hoping to feature for Connacht on Sunday if he is fully recovered from a knee injury.

Connacht, after a week's break, are back in action on Sunday for a rescheduled PRO14 fixture against Ospreys in the Sportsground (3pm ).

It is another opportunity to try to narrow the gap with Conference B leaders Munster, keep ahead of the chasing posse, and improve a disappointing home record this season.

Connacht have one more away fixture in this series of games, away to Dragons, before all five games remaining in the conference will be run off in a five-week period starting February 20. There are also contingency plans being drawn up to revert to the full cross conference tournament in the event the Rainbow Cup does not go ahead.

It ensures Connacht coach Andy Friend is keeping his players on their toes for any eventuality given the lack of clarity in Covid times.

This week's rescheduled fixture is a bonus for Connacht who had been facing a three-week break, and they are prepared for an Ospreys' side that is currently third in Conference A with a squad brimming with international talent, and an attacking back three.

Now coached by Toby Booth, Ospreys' form has improved this season - they have secured three wins from their last four games - and Connacht's energy in defence will be critical against the likes of Dan Evans, Hanno Dirksen, Rhys Web, George North, and company.

Friend will adjust his game plan accordingly, and his team selection, which may well include Bundee Aki, if he is fully fit. Currently nursing a knee injury, he has "stepped up" his training this week with a view to lining out for the first time since Connacht's Champions Cup loss to Bristol.

Making an impression

Coach Andy Friend, who is in talks with CEO Willie Ruane to extend his contract beyond three years, says if he continues throughout the week to train, he will feature against Ospreys.

"If he is fit, we will make him available for selection. There is still question a mark on that, but he's not too far away.

"We need to do the right thing for Bundee. If he comes through today, there's every chance he will train tomorrow and the following day. If he does that, then he becomes a viable option for us."

It would be a timely return with Sammy Arnold who is the latest centre to be ruled out after having surgery for a chest injury, and Tom Farrell remains sidelined with an ACL injury.

Tom Daly and Arnold have formed a strong midfield pairing in recent matches, so Aki's return would be a huge plus, along with Peter Robb, who has recovered from a groin injury.

"Peter Robb has been training hard. He's been waiting his chance, and the timing couldn't be better," says Friend. "Whether Peter or Bundee is to be decided."

Sunday's fixture will also be the last opportunity for several Connacht players looking for international starts to make an impression, including Kieran Marmion, Jack Carty, Quinn Roux, Ultan Dillane, Dave Heffernan, and Finlay Bealham, while players such as captain Jarrad Butler and Abraham Papali'i also come back into contention.

Connacht's decision making will also be crucial, particularly after spurning a late opportunity for victory over Munster.

However Friend says Connacht will be better equipped after "some healthy conversations".

"There has been some real leadership shown from our leaders. No one wants to finish a game like that and it does haunt you. There have been some really good conversations, and I have no doubt the next time we are in a similar situation, we will be in a better position to make a collective decision that is decisive - whether it is the right one or not."

 

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