Carty's chance to shine again as Cardiff hit the Sportsground

Jack Carty in confident form for Connacht.

Jack Carty in confident form for Connacht.

Pressure is mounting on Connacht this weekend, and it is all about a PRO14 win to arrest their current slump at home this season.

It has been a woeful run of results at the former fortress Sportsground - four successive defeats. And few come trickier than Saturday evening's visitors Cardiff.

The Blues arrive with Dai Young back in charge - the coach who took his side to two Celtic League finals and a Heineken Cup semi-final during his coaching stint at the club between 2003 and 2011. And, crouched six points behind Connacht, Cardiff come ready to pounce in a bid to close the gap in Conference B.

This fixture will test Connacht's mind and body against a side they have traditionally struggled to put away. Superb on the floor in defence, Cardiff will also test Connacht out wide.

In their round two meeting in Rodney Parade in October, the Blues produced a 29-7 victory, controlling 80 per cent possession.

A "disappointing one" says Friend of the season's earlier defeat. "I thought on that night it was the best Cardiff had played in the time I have been there. Since then there's been a change in coach with Dai Young coming here, and our home form hasn't been what it needs to be so we need to be much better, be clinical when it matters against a very strong defensive side.

"We have to play a really smart game - make sure we are not running into a blue brick wall close to the ruck."

Connacht have spent time this week training for different scenarios that may arise on the pitch in the hopes of taking their chances better when in the right areas of the field.

"We need to find balance between how we want to play, but arrest the frustration of not winning home games. It is finding the balance so we have been providing scenarios in training."

Connacht will be boosted with the return from Ireland camp of Bundee Aki, Ultan Dillane, and Dave Heffernan, but Quinn Roux will be out of action for three months following shoulder surgery this week.

"It is disappointing for Quinn. It is an ongoing shoulder that has given him grief the whole time I have been here, and this is an opportunity to get it done," says Friend.

Also unavailable are centre Peter Robb who is also having surgery this week for an abdomen injury he suffered in the Dragons, while Sean O’Brien is unlikely to feature following a neck injury in the Eagles game against Munster. Also ruled out are Ben O’Donnell (chest ), Sam Arnold (chest ), Tom Farrell (knee ), Stephen Fitzgerald (knee ), and Cillian Gallagher (shoulder ) who continue their rehabilitation.

However, it is outhalf Jack Carty who will be in the spotlight, directing operations on the field and establishing territory which will be essential to force the Blues on the back foot. It will be a timely test for the 28-years-old who will be in the spotlight with Ireland still to find an heir to Johnny Sexton. Despite his current omission from Andy Farrell's Six Nations squad, he will continue to make his case for selection on the pitch for Connacht.

Confidence is key

Both Carty and Conor Fitzgerald are among a number of players out of contract at the end of the season, but they are expected to re-sign with Connacht, and Friend says Saturday's fixture is another platform for Carty to show his quality for Irish selection.

"You just want another opportunity to go and play, first and foremost to prove to yourself that you are a quality rugby player, and secondly, you want to show the world what you can do. So it's a great opportunity for Dave Heffernan, Ultan Dillane, Bundee Aki, Jack Carty, and a whole array of other players who I think are really quality footballers."

Friend is aware of Carty's frustration, having fallen out of favour after the World Cup defeat to Japan, but says the outhalf is full of confidence again.

“I think he’s in a real purple patch at the moment. We’re starting to see the Jack Carty that in my first year here, I just thought he was brilliant, which led to that Irish selection and then a World Cup.

"At the moment he looks like he is full of confidence. And all we can do is work with him on our game plan and making sure he has got clarity on what he is doing, give him the support to say: ‘You are the man out there, go and do your stuff Jack’.

“We’re seeing that at the moment, and if he keeps that up, I believe the Irish team will have to come knocking for him.”

“He’s a really talented player, we all see that,” Friend says," His ability off the boot is one of the best I’ve ever seen. He’s got a brilliant long kicking game, he’s actually got lovely little, what we call putters, the grubbers that go through, his kicks for touch are fantastic."

And says Friend, it is Carty's ability to see space which is probably the best he has seen.

"He has an amazing capacity to be able to manage the game and put the opposition on the back foot and keep us on the front foot. "

All that will come under the spotlight on Saturday when certainly Farrell will be watching.


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