Connacht return to RaboDirect Pro 12 action after a two-week break with a tough assignment against Munster in Musgrave Park on Saturday (5.45pm ).
Having completed the last series of games with three wins on the bounce, coach Eric Elwood will be anxious to regain that momentum heading into a tough final run-in to the league which sees them also host Ulster with away games to Edinburgh and Treviso.
The good news is the expected return of Connacht’s three Ireland international squad members, although the only certainty earlier in the week was fullback Robbie Henshaw. Mike McCarthy having been given four days rest after playing against Italy, and David McSharry, who is nursing a hip injury, will both be assessed before today’s final training session ahead of the team’s travel to Cork tomorrow.
Definitely out of action are Michael Swift, Kyle Tonetti and Johnny O’Connor.
Welcoming the return of the Leinster-bound McCarthy, Elwood said he was an important player to have back in the side.
“He has five games left in his Connacht career and we have a lot to play for in those five games, so we are hoping to have him. He’s gone through a tough campaign [Six Nations] and had a couple of knocks so we will assess him later the week,” Elwood said.
“We are all looking forward to Munster which is an important derby match. Even though we were on a good run, the break gave us time to assess some of our injuries, and we are in a good space.”
Munster will welcome the return of talisman Paul O’Connell after a lengthy recuperation from a back injury, and while Keith Earls is ruled out, Munster are expected to call on some of their Ireland internationals.
However Elwood says no matter which side Rob Penney names, Connacht will still find it difficult to grab a precious away victory.
“We never get anything easy against Munster, whether it is Thomond Park or Cork, or who is playing. We have struggled when they are missing all their players, and they still have a lot to play for.
“At this stage of the year it is one game at a time for us, and this week it begins with a derby which is extra special.”
Connacht spurned a golden opportunity in the Sportsground fixture, and Elwood will be urging his squad capitalise on all chances created.
“ We had our opportunity at home and didn’t take it, and now we have another opportunity in their patch. But we have to front up physically. They are terrific at the breakdown and you have to match them toe to toe - that’s the challenge. If we can do that, we have a chance.”
To that end McCarthy will be a key figure, alongside the likes of John Muldoon and Willie Faloon, who claimed the Player of the Month award for February 2013 after scoring three tries in victories over the Ospreys and Cardiff.
In squad news, Eoghan Grace is leaving the province after two years.
The backrow player, who came to Connacht from Exeter, has joined Plymouth Albion for next season's championship campaign.
Two academy players, Danny Qualter and Dave Heffernan, have been given development contracts in the senior squad.