Ireland international centre Robbie Henshaw is back with Connacht for tomorrow evening's Challenge Cup quarter-final fixture with English premiership favourites Gloucester.
Henshaw's return is a timely boost ahead of this tough fixture in England, particularly given the decimation of Connacht's midfield which is missing Bundi Aki, Dave McSharry, and Conor Finn. Although Aki returned to training this week following concussion, he will not be available for tomorrow evening's game, while Conor Finn limped off against Munster with a knee injury, and McSharry has been ruled out for the remainder of the season.
"We have had a few injuries in midfield," says backs coach Andre Bell, " and we have had to bring in guys like Danie Poolman, and they have covered exceptionally well. But having an experienced player and a playmaker makes it more exciting for our backline."
Bell says Henshaw is excited to have returned to his home province after his Six Nations exploits. "He's raring to go and we are looking forward to his contribution. His confidence is high, but the key thing is that he is only part of our equation, and other players have to stand up as well."
Mils Muliaina, unavailable last weekend with a back injury, is available, while outhalf/centre Craig Ronaldson has recovered from the flu.
Tomorrow's European fixture against a Gloucester outfit with a host of internationals is a tough task. The squad includes Scottish international Greig Laidlaw, former All Black John Afoa, Wales and Lions, Richard Hibbard and James Hook, Argentinian lock Mariano Galazara, and England's Charlie Sharples, Billy Twelvetrees, Tom Palmer, and Jonny May - the winger who pounced for an injury time try to deny Connacht at their last meeting in the Heineken Cup three seasons ago.
"It's going to be huge," says Bell. " It's a quarter-final, knock out rugby and Gloucester are unbeaten in this competition and they have a home crowd. We are under no illusion it is going to be tough.
"They have very big mobile forwards who like to grind a team down, but they also have quality backs - a fast back three - and we are aware of that," Bell says.
David Humphrey's Gloucester are currently ninth in the premiership, and as a result are pinning their hopes on this competition to qualify for Champions Cup rugby next season. Top seeds with 29 points, they also won the trophy in 2006 when they also romped through the pool stages unbeaten.
While Gloucester are coming off the back of a disappointing defeat to Sale in the premiership, Connacht are still maintainining their sixth place in the Pro 12 despite last weekend's disappointing 42-20 result against Munster.
Anthony Foley's side led 7-3 at the break courtesy of a Billy Holland try which Ian Keatley converted, while Connacht's Jack Carty successfully kicked one of two penalties. Despite Connacht creating scoring opportunities, and Denis Buckley leading the breakdown work, a leaky line-out and some poor turnovers prevented Pat Lam's side from capitalising. Carty narrowed the gap 7-6 after the interval, but the home side increasingly took control. Duncan Casey kickstarted Munster's second-half try haul thanks to the influential CJ Stander after 55 minutes and they never looked back, adding another four tries.
However Bell says Connacht are in positive form despite that defeat.
"We were right in the game up to the 60th minute, so we take a lot of positives out of that. A couple of execution errors towards the end let us down, but we have moved on and we approach tomorrow's game with a really positive attitude.
"We are here to win a trophy, the Challenge Cup, and our priority this week is Europe."