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Injuries and not form are Connacht’s concern

Guinness PRO12 Editor

6 Apr 2010

Connacht coach Michael Bradley has a number of injury concerns ahead of this weekend’s European quarter-final but he should have no such worries about his side’s current form.

Connacht host experienced French outfit Bourgoin on Friday night as they look to progress to the last four of the Amlin Challenge Cup.

Bradley is currently assessing the fitness of a host of key players, including inspirational skipper John Muldoon, with injuries in danger of posing the biggest threat to Connacht’s progression.

Muldoon missed the Good Friday win over Edinburgh with a groin injury and remains a doubt for the Bourgoin tie.

Fellow forwards Robbie Morris, George Naoupu and Ray Ofisa are also on the injury list, as are backs Niva Ta’auso, Keith Matthews and Liam Bibo. 

Former England prop Morris is struggling with a calf problem, while No8 Naoupu and flanker Ofisa remain sidelined with hamstring and sickness issues respectively.

Centres Ta’auso and Matthews have knee and hamstring injuries, with wing Bibo joining Morris in not having fully recovered from a calf problem. 

All seven of the named players missed Connacht’s most-recent fixture but Bradley intends to give them as much time as possible to make themselves available for Friday’s game. 

“We will wait as long as we can during the week to give them the best chance of being fit,” said Bradley, who is in his last of seven seasons in charge of Connacht.

“It’s part and parcel of the game, so we will just have to wait for progress reports. 

“It is a huge game for us and we are all looking forward to it.

“We are going into it on the back of some good form so hopefully the injuries will clear up as a much as possible.” 

While injuries are clearly a problem for the Galway-based province, form is certainly not.

Connacht may be bottom of the Magners League pile but recent results and performances suggest a far more optimistic view of their hopes of continental glory.

Last week’s victory over Play-Off chasing Edinburgh came on the back of a last-gasp defeat at Magners League leaders and Heineken Cup Champions Leinster – a game in which Connacht were hugely unlucky not to come away with more than a solitary losing bonus point.

Prior to that, Bradley’s men were convincing 16-3 winners over the Dragons, a week after the Welsh side had hammered high-flying Munster.

Throw in a two-point loss at Heineken Cup quarter-finalists the Ospreys and a 19-19 draw with Glasgow – when Connacht were again robbed at the death – and it’s been a more than solid start to 2010 for Bradley’s charges.

And if recent results aren’t enough to convince critics to take Connacht’s chances of Amlin Challenge Cup success seriously, then maybe home form and tournament seeding will make people sit up and take notice. 

Connacht haven’t lost at the Sportsground since September, while they enter the knockout stages of Europe’s second-tier competition as the number one seeds.

Quarter-finalists on six previous occasions and semi-finalists twice, Connacht finished Pool 2 with a 100 per cent record.

Convincing home and away wins over Worcester Warriors, Montpellier and Olympus Rugby XV Madrid saw them run away with the group despite being many people’s third favourites for qualification.

Another win this weekend would set up a guaranteed home semi, and with the Sportsground becoming a fortress that visiting sides are finding increasingly hard to conquer, Connacht will fancy their chances of reaching a first-ever European final.