Connacht up their preparations with another joust against Munster

Santiago Cordero, then of Exeter Chiefs during the Heineken Champions Cup match between Munster, will be sidelined for a lengthy period. Head coach Pete Wilkins says the best case scenario is that the Argentine winger will be ready near the end of the season, but currently faces an "arduous road to recovery" after suffering a serious near injury in training.  Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Santiago Cordero, then of Exeter Chiefs during the Heineken Champions Cup match between Munster, will be sidelined for a lengthy period. Head coach Pete Wilkins says the best case scenario is that the Argentine winger will be ready near the end of the season, but currently faces an "arduous road to recovery" after suffering a serious near injury in training. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Connacht host Munster in the Sportsground on Friday (5.30pm ) in another challenge ahead of the opening URC campaign fixture next month.

In an unusually long pre-season due to the World Cup, Connacht head coach Pete Wilkins is using this interprovincial challenge to "sharpen the focus" ahead of the competitive season, while also running the rule of new additions to the squad. And with the absence of Bundee Aki, Mack Hansen, and Finlay Bealham on World Cup duty, it is the ideal time to give newcomers such as New Zealander Sean Jansen, former Bristol legend Joe Joyce, and Ireland Sevens players Liam McNamara and Andrew Smith the opportunity for competitive fare. Unfortunately for Connacht, Argentinian outhalf Santiago Cordero will be sidelined for most of the season having damaged his knee in training.

"Joe Joyce was Bristol club captain and has enormous predigree, and brings real authority, guidance and maturity to forward play both on the field and in meetings. Jansen has spent time in the physio room, nothing major, but it's about about getting his body right on the back of his time with Leicester. He's getting close and has settled well, and the lads have done their part in making them feel like home already," says Wilkins.

"Santiago, unfortunately in the first week of training [was injured], but everyone has rallied around him and given him support. He is one of the most positive people I have come across. It is a big blow for him and a big challenge. He will get surgery here in Ireland, he is settling into a new house and feels with that relocation, he doesn’t want to up sticks but put some roots down in the community.

"He’s been here working every day, physically preparing his leg and himself in terms of fitness to give himself the best positive chance after surgery. He’s contributing in meetings, Studying back play and counterattack, and sharing this knowledge with us. It is not the same as having him out there, but already he has contributed an awful lot."

Friday against Munster, he says, is about giving everyone a hit-out.

"It will be step up - there is no love lost between the two teams, but at this stage it's about the teams' development as they push towards round one."

Wilkins will use Extended bench - bigger than normal - before narrowing down the squad as they edge closer to their opening URC challenge.

One Connacht personality who will be moving on is Johnny O'Connor who announce moving to work with the Galway hurlers.

A fan favourite with Connacht before moving into fitness, O'Connor will he missed by the province, says Wilkins.

"We’ve actually known for a few months that he was moving on from Connacht around October time. The motivation for that was for him to explore other things within the industry and other aspects of his career so we are delighted he has this opporrtunity within an elite sport.

"Johnny is a terrific man and he has contributed a huge amount to this club as player and athletic performance coach. I count him as a good friend now and I will miss having him around, but we will still be in close contact with him.

"He brings a huge amount to the organisation in terms of his quality of coaching around that strength and conditioning athletic performance area, but also in terms of the mindset and that drive for success. He’s been a tremendous assist for us in the latest chapter of his career with Connacht, and who knows there might be another chapter further down the tracks."

 

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