Connacht could face a tricky assignment against lowly Dragons

Connacht are back in United Rugby Championship action when they travel to Wales to face the Dragons on Saturday (7.35pm ).

This is a game Connacht should win, given the huge gap between the two clubs on the URC table. While Connacht are in eighth place and Dragons 15 - some 17 points behind - Andy Friend will not be taking this game for granted, having been turned over in the past at Rodney Parade.

It is crucial that having worked their way back into the play-off positions, Connacht maintain their momentum, and a workmanlike performance will be necessary against a side than can prove tricky - winners in 2021 when they visited the Sportsground. And with Welsh rugby facing challenging times at present, the clubs will be looking to enhance their status in the United Rugby Championship.

Friend will be missing some key players, including hooker Dave Heffernan and backrow Paul Boyle who are recovering from respective thigh and shoulder injuries, but also out action are Adam Byrne, who has had ankle surgery and will be sidelined for six to eight weeks, while Diarmuid Kilgallen (hand ) and hooker Eoin de Buitlear (finger ) will be sidelined for four weeks.

Finlay Bealham, who injured his knee playing in Ireland's win over Italy, will be assessed by Connacht's medical team before a return to play time is determined.

With the season heading towards its conclusion, Connacht know they is no wriggle room if they want to keep themselves in the top eight, and coach Colm Tucker says it is now "game by game".

I know it's a cliche, but there's 20 points to be won to get us into the knock-out stages, and we have to go after every one of them."

He says it is all hands on deck now for the remaining four URC games, starting on Saturday.

"We have four massive URC games - and also a Challenge Cup - but we are not looking beyond Saturday. We've put ourselves in a decent position with the last three results, and this is a short term focus for us."

Ulster's victory over the Sharks has kept Connacht within five points of the South African franchise - although they have a game in hand - but Tucker insists it is all about winning and picking up as many points as they can.

"Fifteen points from the last three games and suddenly you find yourself in the knock-out stages. You can talk about favours, but there is quality right across the URC, so if we can just focus on picking up those four or five points each week, we will be there, or thereabouts for the knock-out stages by the end of the season."

The Munster native, who this weekend signed a new contract to keep him at the Sportsground for three years, wants to continue in his current roll as scrum and contact coach, having moved from defence this season.

"Pete [Wilkins] has assembled his ticket, and has given me that continuity, so I'm looking forward to what I have done for the last eight months, and not looking much past Saturday."

With the departure of Dewald Senekal, who looked after line-out and maul, there is another forwards position available, and already many have earmarked a returning John Muldoon for that job, having been interviewed last week.


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