Connacht looks to kick start New Year with derby day win

Connacht return to the Galway Sportsground for their New Year's Day meeting with Munster, looking to extend their recent home winning run in the United Rugby Championship.

And, having missing their meeting with Ulster due to Covid cases in Dan McFarland's camp, Connacht will be anxious to continue to build on their recent winning home form as they head into a series of tough fixtures in January.

Coach Andy Friend's biggest headache this week is Jack Carty's availability as the 29-years-old outhalf continues to rehab a foot injury, and, if unavailable, it is expected Conor Fitzgerald will step into No 10 position.

"We are still looking at Jack, " says Friend, "but the form he is in at the moment, you'd love to have him involved."

Friend also has limited resources at scrumhalf where Kieran Marmion is the only regular in full fitness. Caolin Blade - along with backrow Sean Masterson and fullback Oran McNulty - are doubtful through illness, with Academy scrumhalf Matthew Devine the only remaining fully fit halfback. In addition centre Peter Robb has suffered a shoulder injury in training.

However, there is some good news with the likely availability of Aussie pair Mack Hansen (calf ) and Ben O'Donnell (illness ), and backrow Paul Boyle (shoulder/Achilles ), who returned to training this week.

The vagaries of rugby during Covid have frustrated Friend, but he says Connacht to date have always been able to field a team.

"One of the pluses and that we as a club are proud of, is having real ambition, and that ambition is always to field a rugby team. In the last two years we have had games called off, but we have not been the cause of those.

"Our ambition is to continue that run, so ideally this game will be played on the weekend. That is our intention, but as we know, it is a forever changing world. I also know Munster are keen to run given the lack of games they have had over recent weeks."

Munster prevailed over Connacht at Thomond Park in October by 20-18 following a controversial try, and Friend says their visit to the Sportsground once again highlights the difference in the type of game the two outfits play.

"It is our intention to play our style of rugby, and I have no doubt Munster will play theirs. The set piece is where they see their avenue to get into the game, so we are very aware that it is a Munster style. But I have enormous confidence in our pack, and as we go through the season and get better, I think you will see less and less times when opposition targets it because the cracks won't be there for them.

Friend says the key for Connacht is to deal with the way Munster want to play - "not giving away easy access penalties, first and foremost don't give them access points, and have the belief to play the game our way."

Connacht go into the match following their 29-23 loss to Leicester Tigers in their Heineken Cup Champions Cup fixture. Despite the loss, it will give Connacht real hope that they will be able to stymie Munster's muscle up front, while keeping their opponents on the back foot with their aggressive defence and exciting attack.


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