Connacht head to South Africa for back-to-back games


From this week's Galway City Tribune

From this week's Galway City Tribune

Connacht head to South Africa for back-to-back games Connacht head to South Africa for back-to-back games


Connacht’s two-match tour to South Africa is the start of a remarkable sequence of nine games which is going to define their season.

The clashes against the Sharks this Saturday in Durban and in Pretoria the following week against the Bulls, are the primary concerns for head coach Pete Wilkins and his management team.

But with three derby games and four Champions Cup clashes to come on their return home, Wilkins also has to keep an eye on how to deal with them.

World Player of the Year nominee Bundee Aki is in a race to be fit for Connacht’s Champions Cup games next month as he recovers from a hamstring injury picked up in France.

He has been omitted from the 29-man squad which left Galway on Monday afternoon for South Africa; while Irish winger Mack Hansen is also remaining at the Sportsground, nursing an ankle injury he suffered at the World Cup.

Connacht will host Leinster on their return, then face Bordeaux-Bègles and Saracens before festive derbies against Ulster (away) and Munster (home). Then it’s back to Champions Cup duty early in 2024 with a trip to Lyon and a home tie against Pat Lam’s Bristol Bears.

Wilkins is confident Hansen will be available for their game against Leinster, but it remains to be seen if Aki will be fit for the opening Champions Cup match at home to Bordeaux-Bègles on December 8 or away to Saracens a week later.

“I’d like to think he will make it back for the Champions Cup. We will see where he is in another two weeks’ time when we are back from South Africa. Plan A is that he is back for Bordeaux, if not then against Saracens but we will just have to wait and see,” said Wilkins.

Connacht’s third World Cup squad member, tighthead Finlay Bealham, has been included in the squad for South Africa and he could end up providing cover on the other side of the scrum as well as only two looseheads, Denis Buckley and Peter Dooley, are travelling, although Wilkins said they could bring out reinforcements if necessary.

“We have done that before, we brought out scrum-half Colm Reilly before, but again Plan A is to stick with that 29. We have guys that can cover if necessary if we had an injury at the back of the end of the week, but if it is at the start of the week then we can look at bringing someone out,” he added.

This Wilkins’ eleventh tour to South Africa as either an analyst or coach, and he knows Connacht have to be able to adapt to various scenarios.

Pictured: Tiernan O’Halloran and Caolin Blade are both in the Connacht squad that has travelled to South Africa for back-to-back games in the URC.  Photo: Joe O’Shaughnessy.

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