Connacht’s only World Cup player, Fetu’u Vainikolo, is in line to make his debut for the province in Saturday evening’s RaboDirect Pro 12 fixture against Cardiff at the Galway Sportsground (6pm ). The Tongan World Cup player, who has played on both left and right wings, has been recovering from a medial ligament tear and is expected to make his first start for Connacht this weekend. The 26-years-old, who signed for Connacht from the Otago Highlanders, returned to Galway after Tonga’s exit from the World Cup. After a late call-up to the Tonga squad, Vainikolo was given a starting place in Tonga's 25-20 loss to Canada, and scored a try against Japan in the group matches before suffering a knee injury. Connacht coach Eric Elwood says Vainikolo has returned from New Zealand full of confidence.
“We were lucky to have Fetu’u training with us before he went on World Cup duty, so he knows the boys and the training. It is good that he’s been involved in the high class environment of the World Cup and has come back full of confidence and beans,” Elwood says. Vainikolo, who comes with a huge reputation down under, is expected to give Connacht an explosive edge out wide, and he will be tested by a Cardiff outfit that boasts an experienced three-quarters. Former fellow Highlander George Naoupu, Miah Nikora, Eoin Griffin and Tiernan O’Halloran have all returned to training and are expected to be named in the Connacht squad today. Nikora was given 20 minutes in Connacht A’s loss to Munster last Friday and, if fully fit, is likely to be named on the bench, as is Naoupu who has enjoyed a speedy recovery. Griffin is expected to return to the centre alongside Henry Fa’afili.
Up front props Brett Wilkinson and Rodney Ah You will be tested by a strong Cardiff front row, while Mike McCarthy and Michael Swift’s physicality will be needed at the breakdown. John Muldoon, Johnny O’Connor and Ray Ofisa are likely to form the starting back row. After a two-week break from action, this is the first of 13 games on the bounce, including the Heineken Cup fixtures, which will test Connacht’s resources well into the New Year.
“There was an element of rest and recovery, assessing injuries, and down time for the boys , but we now face an unprecedented 13 games, so it was important both physically and mentally, not only for the players, but the coaches, to get that break.” First up is Cardiff - the only team to beat Connacht in their last nine games at the Sportsground. “We recognise their threat, but the key for us is that we have to win the collision. The game is won in that area, be it in the carry or the tackle, so we have to meet them head on,” says Elwood. “They have a formidable pack of forwards and we all know their strength behind the set piece, but we firmly believe if we can focus on our business, particularly at home, we are a match for anyone. We recognise what they have, but if we can get our business right, in how we play and apply ourselves, we believe we are a strong team at home.” Although both sides have won and lost three games, the Blues are sitting in fourth place, three ahead of Connacht, by virtue of three try bonus points - demonstrating their scoring ability. Even without their World Cup players, although some are expected to line out, Cardiff have considerable strength in depth. Connacht have beaten Cardiff just once since 2005, and it would be a huge boost heading into the next 13 weeks if Connacht could do it again.
Connacht captain looks for provincial support
Connacht captain Gavin Duffy is calling on the province to get behind the team as they head into their first Heineken Cup rugby campaign. Connacht welcome French rugby giants Toulouse to the Sportsground in their first home match on Saturday November 19, and Duffy says it is important that the Sportsground is a formidable fortress for this occasion. “We are calling on all the people of Connacht to come out and support our team,” he says. “ When we played Toulon in the semi-final of the Amlin Challenge Cup two seasons ago, teams and schools from across the province sent in their messages and we had them all displayed on boards around the dressing room. It really hammered home the support we had from all over and it was a huge motivator for the team. This year we face a similar challenge so we’re asking people from every corner of the province to do the same and upload their messages of support to our Facebook page.” Duffy says although tickets for the match may be limited, there are other ways to support the team. “There are many ways you can support the team, mainly through our Facebook page where you can now upload a video, post a picture, or simply type your message of support which will be read by the team in the run up to our Heineken Cup games.” To upload your picture, video or message, log on to www.Facebook.com/ConnachtRugby The top 100 images of support will be used to form part of Connacht Rugby’s ‘The Green Mile’.