With Hansen back, Sportsground will be rocking for Leinster visit

Joe Joyce of Connacht is tackled by Cyle Brink of Vodacom Bulls during the United Rugby Championship match between Vodacom Bulls and Connacht at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria, South Africa. Photo by Shaun Roy/Sportsfile

Joe Joyce of Connacht is tackled by Cyle Brink of Vodacom Bulls during the United Rugby Championship match between Vodacom Bulls and Connacht at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria, South Africa. Photo by Shaun Roy/Sportsfile

There will be a rocking atmosphere at the Sportsground on Saturday night when Connacht entertain high-flying Leinster in round seven of the BKT United Rugby Championship.

After two weeks in South Africa, Connacht come back to Galway having picked up four points on tour. A win over Sharks in Durban was followed by defeat in Pretoria to the Bulls. The squad travelled back from South Africa early this week and immediately set about preparations for their second interpro of the season at home.

Saturday’s crowd will be buoyant after an encouraging start with four wins in the opening six games for Pete Wilkins side as they sit seventh in the league table.

Leinster are currently second in the table after their win over Munster at the weekend. Leinster have won five of their opening six games in the URC.

The game is sold out and will be broadcast live on RTE on Saturday night. Connacht are set to play Mack Hansen this weekend, and he will be raring to go as he has not featured for the province in the opening third of the URC regular season. He returned from the Rugby World Cup with an ankle injury and did not travel on Connacht’s recent tour of South Africa.

However, he has been declared fully fit by the province this week, and looks set to feature in this Saturday’s interpro at the Sportsground.

“You don’t need me to explain how good he is and that buzz he brings around the place,” assistant coach John Muldoon said.

“Coming back from South Africa and getting into a derby game is special and then to have him and his energy around the place this week will be even better again. He is a phenomenal player.

“He adds lots to us and it won’t be from lack of enthusiasm anyway in terms of what Mack will bring on the pitch, so really looking forward to seeing him.

Paul Boyle and Dave Heffernan also also available for selection after overcoming respective ankle and calf issues, but Bundee Aki’s return remains on hold.

Aki has been rehabbing a hamstring issue since returning from Word Cup duty, and while he the province say he remains unavailable, his status will be reassessed ahead of the Investec Champions Cup campaign which begins next week.

Connacht have made a positive start to the season, sitting seventh in the table after picking up four wins from their opening six games, which includes their recent two-game tour of South Africa.

The province were heavily beaten in the most recent of those tour games, going down 53-27 to the Bulls in Pretoria last Saturday, but despite the heavy scoreline Muldoon doesn’t believe there will be any lingering emotional scars this week.

“We’re disappointed, I think we definitely could have got something out of the game we left a few opportunities out there and different facets of the game left us down at crucial times.

“We’ve got to make sure we remedy that very quickly because you don’t get away with that against the big teams. Certainly the conditions were new for me and new for the players in terms of the altitude, and the heat was phenomenal, but you can’t have excuses in terms of that.

“We prepared very well, went out and the boys were fresh, but we just made too many errors. What we’re happy about is that we can control some of those errors. If we cut one or two of those out it would have given us a better opportunity,” he added.

For Leinster, Ross Byrne will have further examination for an arm injury picked up at the weekend but has been ruled out of selection this week.

— In other news, Alan Bane has been named as head coach of the Connacht Juniors for the forthcoming interprovincial series. The current Castlebar head coach and former Corinthians player takes over from Barry Ruane who led the province for the past two seasons.

The province has also confirmed the rest of the coaching ticket with Darin Classen and Craig Hansberry named as Assistant Coaches and Corrib’s Jimmy Roddy taking over as manager from Sean Higgins and Declan Slattery. Corinthians Derek Carlin will be the kit manager with Damien Burke as Physio.

 

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