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Blade Sharpens Up For Return From Injury

Blade Sharpens Up For Return From Injury

Monivea man Caolin Blade is pictured training in the build-up to the Benetton game this week ©INPHO/James Crombie

Andy Friend has named his team to face Benetton Rugby in the Guinness PRO14 on Friday, with the Connacht head coach making one change to the side that was originally due to play the Ospreys last week.

That game was postponed due to a Covid-19 case in the Welsh team’s squad, and the Connacht management have opted to stick with an almost identical matchday 23.

A number of players are looking to pick up some game-time before a hectic period of Heineken Champions Cup pool clashes and Christmas interprovincial derbies.

The one change is at scrum half where Caolin Blade has recovered from a recent hamstring injury to start his first game since October. Colm Reilly reverts to the bench.

Stand-in captain Paul Boyle gets the opportunity to lead Connacht for the first time. He packs down at number 8, with flankers Sean O’Brien and Conor Oliver on either side.

The tight five is made up of Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Jack Aungier, Gavin Thornbury and Eoghan Masterson, who continues as a makeshift second row.

Limerick youngster Conor Fitzgerald partners Blade at out-half, with Sam Arnold and Tom Daly featuring in the centre, and the pacy trio of Alex Wootton, Peter Sullivan and John Porch offering plenty of attacking threat out wide.

Ultan Dillane has been released from the Ireland camp to take a bench spot, while 22-year-old Academy back Sean O’Brien, from Mullingar, is poised to make his debut as a replacement.

Looking forward to Connacht’s return to action, Friend said: “Last week’s late postponement (of the Ospreys game) was very disappointing and put us in a tricky position regarding our selection for this week.

“In the end, we believe it’s only right that the squad selected last week will get another chance to impress. We’ve got seven weeks of European games and interpros ahead of us, so we’d like to get minutes under the belts of as many players as possible.”

He added: “Home games in the PRO14 are where we need to build up our points tally and tomorrow will be no different.

“It’s important we build on the Zebre win two weeks ago by showing that same level of physicality and taking our chances when they come. If we do that I know that’ll put us in a good place.”

CONNACHT (v Benetton Rugby): John Porch; Peter Sullivan, Sam Arnold, Tom Daly, Alex Wootton; Conor Fitzgerald, Caolin Blade; Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Jack Aungier, Eoghan Masterson, Gavin Thornbury, Sean O’Brien, Conor Oliver, Paul Boyle (capt).

Replacements: Jonny Murphy, Paddy McAllister, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Ultan Dillane, Jarrad Butler, Colm Reilly, Sean O’Brien, Matt Healy.