‘I’d like to think five or six Connacht guys might be in the frame for Ireland’

‘I’d like to think five or six Connacht guys might be in the frame for Ireland’

CONNACHT ARE HOPEFUL of having a strong contingent of their players included in Andy Farrell’s Ireland squad for the two July Tests against Japan and the US.

Ireland will be missing eight established players due to the Lions tour this summer, including Connacht centre Bundee Aki, meaning there will be opportunities for several fresh faces.

As well as Aki, Connacht lock Ultan Dillane and hooker Dave Heffernan were part of Andy Farrell’s most recent Ireland squad, but the western province are hoping their representation will be greater for the upcoming Tests in Dublin.

“It’s exciting that that tour is going on alongside the Lions tour, often that gives opportunity to guys who might be on the fringes of that Irish selection or who might not be on the radar externally,” said Connacht assistant coach Pete Wilkins.

“I’d like to think there’ll be five or six guys who have put their hands up strongly over this season and, in particular, in some of those inter-pros.

“Across the season as a whole, Tom Daly in particular, the consistency of his performances has been outstanding and he brings his own skillset to that number 12 or 13 role with the ability to cover number 10.

“So, I think for guys like that it’s an enormous opportunity for them if the Irish coaches are looking at them.

“I’d like to think five or six guys might be in the frame, but it depends on how the Irish coaches are viewing that tour and how they want to play the game in terms of the style of play. It’ll be exciting to see.”

Connacht’s players have two more Rainbow Cup games in which to impress Farrell, with the possibility of a third if they reach the final of the competition.

Connacht assistant coach Pete Wilkins. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

On Saturday, Andy Friend’s men face current Rainbow Cup leaders Benetton over in Italy, where they had an excellent win as recently as February.

“Not long ago we were over there, we had an extremely tough game and came out on top with the final play,” said Wilkins of the 19-17 win.

“I don’t think we got the credit we deserved for that result. The performance wasn’t as good as others we’ve delivered this season and we certainly made the job harder for ourselves in defence and attack, it wasn’t the perfect game by any means.

“But that ability to stay in the fight, even without much possession or field position and take our opportunity when it finally came… in the coaches box, we had a belief we could get there. It wasn’t a great performance, all-singing, all-dancing, but the boys found a way.

“In terms of our attitude this weekend, we might need to do something similar.”

Of course, Connacht come into this game with some confidence having beaten Munster in Thomond Park in their most recent outing.

That victory brought Friend’s side back into contention in the Rainbow Cup after they had followed up their thrilling opening-round win away to Ulster with a big defeat to Leinster in Galway.

“The ability to get that Ulster performance and the Munster performance so close together, that breeds belief but also shows a new setting of the standards we need to live up to,” said Wilkins.

“That Leinster game in between shows that we still have growth to come and growth required. Those three games probably show a fair reflection of where we’re at as a team and where we’re going in these couple of next games and moving forward next season.”

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