Connacht are facing an injury crisis ahead of tomorrow evening’s Magners League clash against title-chasing Edinburgh at the Galway Sportsground (6pm ).
Missing from action is an entire back row of captain John Muldoon, openside Ray Ofisa, and No 8 George Naoupu, while both key centres Keith Matthews and Niva Ta’auso are also on the injured list. Add in wing Liam Bibo and prop Robbie Morris, and Connacht are struggling with numbers, not only ahead of tomorrow’s fixture but the crucial Amlin Cup quarter-final next week.
It could not have come at a worse time for Connacht as they enter a critical stage of the season. Coach Michael Bradley would have hoped to have given his starting XV for next week’s European fixture a run-out tomorrow, but now he will be sweating on their rehabilitation throughout next week.
Fortunately last week’s morale-boosting performance against Leinster gave several players competitive action, not least Brian Tuohy and Johnny O’Connor who will retain their starting positions against Edinburgh. O’Connor will join Mike McComish at No 8 and Mike McCarthy in the back row, with Michael Swift and Bernie Upton in the second row. Sean Cronin will return to the starting line-up alongside Jamie Hagan and Brett Wilkinson.
Frank Murphy, who produced a lively performance against Leinster last weekend, will partner Ian Keatley at halfback, while Troy Nathan will join Aidan Wynne in the centre.
As expected last week’s man of the match Fionn Carr will complete the three-quarter line with Gavin Duffy, who captains the side, and Tuohy.
Connacht can expect to find the going tough against an Edinburgh side with its sights set on a home play-off. Fast and strong at offloading in the tackle, they will give Connacht’s defence a thorough examination. Unbeaten in their last four trips to Galway - two of which were draws - Edinburgh are flying the Scottish flag in third place behind Leinster and Munster. Coach Rob Moffat has made four changes to his starting line-up for the trip to Connacht with Allan Jacobsen, Jim Hamilton and David Callam – all Scotland internationalists – named, while centre Ben Cairns, who has recovered from a hamstring injury, reclaims the number 13 jersey.
However Connacht come into the match in good form having run leaders Leinster incredibly close. Only that last-gasp drop goal from Jonathan Sexton denied them a deserved victory. But while they took Leinster by surprise when Carr scorched through after just two minutes for the first of two tries, Edinburgh will travel prepared.
Connacht will rue those missed opportunities - denied by the TMO when Sean Cronin was a fingertip from the line,and Keatley’s two missed drop goals. The Irish touch judge played his part in Duffy’s harsh yellow card which certainly did not aid Connacht’s cause last week.
However moral victories make no impression on the Magners League table, and Connacht will certainly need to be at their defensive best against this high-flying Scottish side, while taking their chances. And, having conceded too many penalties in their previous two games, they will also need to keep on the referee’s side. If they do, Connacht’s strong home record could well be enhanced.
This is Connacht’s first fixture on a Good Friday, and Bradley is hoping that strong home support once again turns out for this fixture.
The stadium will be fully operational for patrons tomorrow night.
Connacht: G Duffy; B Tuohy, A Wynne, T Nathan, F Carr; I Keatley, F Murphy, B Wilkinson, S Cronin, J Hagan; M Swift, B Upton, M McCarthy; J O’Connor, M McComish. Naoupu. R Loughney, A Flavin, R Loughney, D Nolan, A Browne, C O’Loughlin, M Nikora, E Griffin.
• Connacht Rugby will host a golf classic on the eve of next weekend’s Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final.
The golf classic will take place at Galway Bay Golf Club on Friday April 9, the day before the clash with Bourgoin at the Sportsground.
The golf competition will be a four-ball stableford, with two scores to count at each hole.
Teams will cost €400, which will include four tickets for the big match against Bourgoin the following day at the Sportsground.
Details are available from Connacht Rugby on 091-561568, or from committee members Frank Mitchell (086-6050925 or ), Gerry O'Neill (087-2401076 ), Simon Heaslip (087-2512803 ). or Steve Cunningham (087-2348632 ).