The Connacht Rugby season will be decided in the next six games

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The URC is back after the international window and Connacht return to Munster at Thomond Park on Saturday with a huge InterPro.

The big Munster clash

Connacht finished the opening seven weeks on a bit of a roll, but regardless of Munster’s form, this stint away at Thomond is far from ideal.

Munster may have started the season well when they beat South Africa A in a spirited performance at Parc Ui Chaoimh. I think some Munster fans are inclined to leave the A in South Africa A, but nevertheless, a fantastic win and a lot of youth flourishing in this game. It gave hope and confidence going forward and maybe it gave Graeme Rowntree a reason to keep the youngsters going. They also now have the question of Crowley or Carbery rearing its ugly head. Personally, I think they will stick with Joey, but that will now be a constant question for Rowntree and his staff.

The return of the Irish internationals

Connacht will be bolstered by returning Irish Internationals but early reports suggest Mack Hansen is a doubt with a thigh injury.

The return of players like Bundee Aki from suspension and a decent performance against Australia is also a big boost for the Thomond trip.

Bundee is such a leader for this team and I think there’s no denying Connacht has a higher ceiling when he’s on the pitch, even though he struggles to make an impact at times.

Finlay Bealham and Cian Prendergast are also big additions and will do if both are good to go start on saturday. Mack would obviously be a big loss, but with the in-form John Porch on one wing and Adam Byrne or Alex Wootton on the other, there are still two very decent options to fill Mack’s boots.

Staff injuries

Tiernan O’Halloran is out with a hip injury so it will be interesting to see who plays at fullback.

John Porch would be my call, but Andy Friend and Pete Wilkins seem to have moved away from it.

Alex Wootton has played there before and Oran McNulty has also played a few games in the position. Conor Fitzgerald has had some very successful cameos at the back and tends to do well in big games, so I’d guess he’ll be the man to replace Tiernan.

There are six major games left until 2022

This next job is huge for Connacht. Two league games in a row against Munster and Benetton and then two Challenge Cup games against Newcastle and Brive followed by two huge InterPro games against Ulster and Leinster rounded off the year.

Connacht should look at the Challenge Cup as a potential trophy.

It won’t be easy, but they are good enough to do it and it would be an amazing way to end Andy Friend’s tenure as manager.

Then you have three InterPros in the next four games at URC.

If Connacht are to stay in contention for the top eight, even if they lose the bonus points, picking up points is vital. Connacht’s schedule from February to the end of April is full of winnable games and is the easier half of the season, still in the hunt to get to this point.

I’m sure Andy Friend will tell his players that. They are split by season, so this upcoming stand is something they will be thinking about.

If they can get to the end of January and still be in the hunt for the top eight, then it’s all systems go for a final push for the season.

Of course, the team’s focus will be on Thomond this saturday and getting the double over Munster would be huge. Connacht, as the cliché goes, will take it game by game.

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