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‘I am comfortable and confident’ – Andy Friend has faith in Connacht defence being capable of taming the Lions


Record-chaser: Jack Carty of Connacht

Record-chaser: Jack Carty of Connacht

Record-chaser: Jack Carty of Connacht

Andy Friend is confident his Connacht side can put their nightmare in Newcastle behind them and get their hopes of a Champions Cup spot back on track against the Lions at the Sportsground this evening (7.35pm).

Their display in a 35-21 Challenge Cup loss in Newcastle was one of their poorest in a long time, but they have still qualified for the quarter-finals of that competition and ending this block of league games with a win will keep their hopes of a top-half finish alive.

Only five of the side which started in Newcastle — centre Cathal Forde, hooker Shane Delahunt and a back-row of Josh Murphy, who switches from lock, Conor Oliver and Jarrad Butler — are retained, with international duty ruling out Mack Hansen, Bundee Aki, Finlay Bealham and Cian Prendergast.

Jack Carty returns to skipper the side in a half-back partnership with Caolin Blade, and a couple of penalties will see him equal Eric Elwood’s record points haul of 1,152.

The Murray brothers from Roscommon will start as a second-row partnership for the first time at the Sportsground, but Friend has warned they can expect a tough examination from the Johannesburg side, who have been in Europe throughout January as they play the fourth match of their current tour.

“We know they are tenacious, have a massive scrum, big forward pack, and an amazing capacity to make you miss tackles. Although we did leak 35 points at the weekend, I am comfortable and confident our defence is one of the strongest parts of our game, but a South African team coming here on the last week of their tour.

“They will have bonded well and will be buoyed by their win over Dragons on the weekend, and no doubt they will be targeting us on Saturday night,” said Friend.

Meanwhile, hooker Eoin de Buitléar has signed his first professional deal, having started with the An Cheathrú Rua club his father Cian co-founded in Connemara. His brother Colm made five starts and three off the bench for Connacht. Their late grandfather was the renowned filmmaker, environmentalist, author and musician Éamon de Buitléar.

Verdict: Connacht

Connacht – T O’Halloran; D Kilgallen, T Farrell, C Forde, J Porch; J Carty (c), C Blade; P Dooley, S Delahunt, J Aungier; D Murray, N Murray; J Murphy, C Oliver, J Butler. Replacements: D Tierney-Martin, J Duggan, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, L Fifita, S Hurley-Langton, K Marmion, T Daly, O McNulty

Lions – Q Horn; S Pienaar, H van Wyk, M Louw (c), E van der Merwe; J Hendrikse, A Warner; JP Smith, PJ Botha, A Ntlabakanye; W Alberts, D Landsberg; S Sangweni, E van Heerden, E Tshituka. Replacements: M van Vuuren, M Naude, R Smith, P Jansen van Vuren, J Kriel, M van den Berg, M Rass, A Coetzee.

Ref – P Williams (New Zealand)

Connacht v Lions,
Live, TG4/Premier Sports 2, 7.35

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