Full house expected for Scarlets clash

Andrew Smith of Connacht is tackled by Shane Lewis Hughes of Cardiff during the United Rugby Championship match between Cardiff and Connacht at Cardiff Arms Park in Cardiff, Wales. Photo by Gruff Thomas/Sportsfile

Andrew Smith of Connacht is tackled by Shane Lewis Hughes of Cardiff during the United Rugby Championship match between Cardiff and Connacht at Cardiff Arms Park in Cardiff, Wales. Photo by Gruff Thomas/Sportsfile

Connacht Rugby is expecting a full house at Dexcom Stadium for Saturday’s URC fixture against the Scarlets (7.05pm ).

This match has been designated as Connacht’s Origin Round, which celebrates grassroots rugby. Players will don their club or school socks, and fans are similarly encouraged to wear their colours.

And following a rare win in Cardiff, it presents a real opportunity for Pete Wilkins’ outfit to keep pace with the top eight.

That 12-16 victory at Arms Park put Connacht into 10th place, just out of the top eight. However, just four points separates them and fourth-placed Benetton, ensuring Saturday’s clash with the Welsh outfit is vital for their seasonal ambitions.

“We just have to stay in the hunt,” says forwards coach Colm Tucker. “We were a little bit rusty against Cardiff. Conditions were particularly hard, which didn’t help, but we did grind out a win. Now we are looking forward to being at home with our supporters and putting on a good performance.

“Being here in the Sportsground on good nights - the noise they make and how they get behind the team - is special.

“We’ve been to South Africa and a lot of the top teams have yet to play each other, so it is just important that we focus on ourselves, keep chalking up points, and then we should find ourselves there-or-thereabouts. That is our focus game to game."

Connacht will be without Finlay Bealham, who has been recalled to the Ireland squad, while another six players are unavailable, including fellow internationals Bundee Aki and the injured Mack Hansen, hooker Dylan Tierney Martin (neck ), Oisin McCormack (thigh ), John Porch and Shayne Bolton.

Bealham, not originally included in the squad for Wales, had returned to the Sportsground and was due to play against the Scarlets. However, Tucker says the news came just as Connacht players were about to start their scrummaging session this week.

“We got a message to say he’s been pulled to the Irish camp, so it was great to see him for two days and to train with us.

“I know they [Ireland] were keen for Finlay to get minutes, and he was released to play [for Connacht] this weekend.

“He was excited to come back, but that is the nature of it. They get a knock or something in camp, so Finlay is called up, and that is where we want to see him. So, he was back in his car and off to Dublin, and of course he is valued up there as the person he is.”

Tucker says Bealham is “up there with the top around the world”.

“His journey might have taken a little bit longer to come into the limelight, but everyone’s journey is different.

“If you are looking for a really good tighthead, you wouldn’t look further than him.

“He has worked unbelievably hard to get the most out of himself. His preparation is second to none, and he’s a brilliant professional.”

Bealham’s absence is expected to provide another opportunity for the the likes of up-and-coming 25-years-old Jack Aungier.

 

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