No shortage of motivation has Connacht host Munster on Saturday

Rugby: Pro 14

Caolin Blade gets over the line for Connacht's third try in their victory over Ulster last weekend. Photo: Sportsfile.

Caolin Blade gets over the line for Connacht's third try in their victory over Ulster last weekend. Photo: Sportsfile.

Connacht have a super opportunity to round off a successful festive inter-provincial period and leapfrog their visitors Munster in the PRO14 when the two meet at the Galway Sportsground on Saturday (7.35pm ).

Three points separate the two sides on the PRO14 Conference A table, and with Andy Friend's squad in confident form after their victory over Ulster last weekend, there is a lot riding on this third successive interprovincial.

It is hugely signficant in terms of standing in the conference, says defence coach Pete Wilkins, and also to round off what would be a most successful block of festive games.

"We were hugely disappointed how the Leinster match finished, but if we win this game, then overall this three game block looks pretty positive," Wilkins says. "There is huge motivation, as if anyone needed it, in the context of this Christmas and New Year period, and in setting up for the following block."

Munster come after a superb 26-17 victory over champions Leinster in Thomond Park, while Connacht's confidence is equally high after following up their historic victory in Kingspan Stadium with a first double over Ulster in the professional era.

The only disappointment was Connacht's inability to bag a bonus point, given the control Connacht carved for long periods.

"We put ourselves in a commanding position in the game, and it was a home game. We had momentum and we would loved to have got that bonus point, but equally they are pretty tough opposition, and the nature of these interpros is that no one lies down for you. I think to beat them home and away and in the context of our standing in the PRO14, it was a good achievement, and we are pretty proud of that, but equally we have to turn around and go again. There is no time to bask in that, we have back it up and go again."

Once again Connacht will be prepared for the physicality of battle, going toe-to-two with some of the best in the country.

"It is stating the obvious when it comes to Munster, but they pride themselves of their ability to go forward in attack and defence, so it is not just weathering that storm, but to come out on the right side of it is important. While Ulster will keep banging on the door and look to keep playing, Munster have one of the best kick-chase structures in the competition, if not Europe - it is something they pride themselves on."

Connacht have no fresh injuries following that 22-12 win over Dan McFarland's side, but Ireland centre Bundee Aki is the biggest doubt, having played against both Leinster and Ulster.

"Obviously Bundee is someone whose minutes we have to monitor over this period which is fair enough, and he took a little knock over the weekend, so he is doubtful. But everyone has a clean bill of health from the Ulster game which is a real positive after such a physical and attritional game."

With Aki's minutes being monitored, recent on-loan recruit Tom Daly is ready to make his first appearance, while Kyle Godwin, forced to play on the wing last weekend, could also slot into the midfield alongside Tom Farrell. Left wing Matt Healy has recovered from an ankle injury, but fullback Tiernan O'Halloran remains sidelined with a calf injury.

Daly, one of three on-loan players, is also in contention after two weeks with the squad since his move from Leinster, while former Munster man Stephen Fitzgerald made his appearance as a replacement last weekend, and scrumhalf Angus Lloyd is also on loan.

"The three lads had been hugely important to us for this period when we needed immediate fixes in certain positions. To have those guys on loan and to fit in seamlessly has been really important. Tom has come in and he's desperate for game time, and it's good if we can give him that opportunity. It's terrific for him and equally for us - he's a good player. He probably hasn't had too much rugby in the last two years, but he's raring to go and I think he will do a good job if he is selected."

"We have been a little thin across the back three, and we've had Godwin playing more rugby on the wing than in the centres, and he's done a really solid job for us there, but our preference is to see him get more time in the centre," says Wilkins. "The injuries we have had - Niyi Adeolokun doing his bicep in South Africa and we've had to rearrange it a bit, and we've probably had guys playing more minutes than we had originally planned, but we are weathering the storm."

Scrumhalf Caolan Blade will continue to wear the No 9 shirt in the absence of Kieran Marmion who is due for a return next month. The Monivea man has featured in every Connacht game this season, and Wilkins says he has been terrific for the club.

"He is the only player to be involved in every game this season, which is a huge amount for someone who may have had the perception of being the number two behind Kieran Marmion. He has obviously grabbed the opportunity."

He also grabbed one of three tries against Ulster that ensured Connacht won the New Year honours over Ulster.

In securing that vital seventh PRO14 victory, Andy Friend's side maintained their recent momentum in the hunt for a semi-final berth.


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