Connacht plans in disarray as Fainga'a ruled out until new year
A knee ligament injury means Connacht will have to plan without their player of the year Colby Fainga'a for Saturday's Champions Cup clash with Gloucester and next week's inter-pro derby against Munster.
Former Brumbies and Rebels openside flanker, Fainga'a, has once again been one of Connacht's in-form players, but he sustained a repeat of a medical ligament injury in the early stages of the province's European defeat to Gloucester at Kingsholm last weekend.
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That loss was Connacht's second in the competition, which means they cannot afford any slip ups in their remaining games to have any chance of making the knock-out stages, and they must get back to winning ways without their 28-year-old combative back-rower.
"He is probably not as bad as we first thought, which is good. But he certainly not available for this week and a doubt for next week too," said head coach Andy Friend. "It's an MCL (medial collateral ligament) again. It is the same injury he did last time. He is a quick healer, but he is not available this week anyway.
"He took up where he left off last year, he was brilliant last year and has been very very consistent this year for us."
Friend will certainly be without Tiernan O'Halloran (leg) and Kieran Marmion (back) for those two pre-Christmas games too, although he said the majority of his injured players are returning ahead of schedule.
Matt Healy was a late withdrawal last week due to a quad injury, and he will return along with Tom Farrell, Darragh Leader, Stephen Fitzgerald and Paddy McAllister some time around the new year.
"Our medical staff and our athletic performance staff have been brilliant, they really have.
"The speed at which they are getting these men back, virtually every player we are seeing two or three weeks off their original return to play date.
"Tiernan was meant to be in the new year so we're hoping that might be a little bit earlier. Kieran we were possibly looking and thinking about having him back for Munster, but we think that's going to be a stretch now too.
"Tiernan's one is probably easier to predict and he's flying at the moment so he's looking really really good. Kieran's one is virtually a day by day. It is improving but probably not at the rate we wanted to."