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Connacht vow to lay marker in Europe

 

WHILE there is undeniably a touch of 'after the Lord Mayor's show' with the focus switching to domestic club duty post-World Cup, there is plenty to stir blood also as Irish rugby looks to kick on from the disappointment of a quarter-final exit. As the next four-year cycle gets under way, young players are scrutinised with extra intensity to judge if they have the capacity to bolster Ireland's next World Cup challenge for England 2015. And, although it is hard to banish Ronan O'Gara's observation in Queenstown last month that the Heineken Cup is "limited compensation" after World Cup failure, there is still much to be enthusiastic about, with regards to the impending European campaign. Not least the fact that Connacht are making their long-awaited debut in the competition and to top it off, are facing European aristocrats Toulouse in their first home match in a few weeks' time... read the rest

BEST OF THE WEST

Henry Fa'afili Hugely powerful inside-centre who has played a lead role so far this season, mixes brawn with the ability to find and exploit gaps. George Naoupu Superb start to his second stint with Connacht was spoiled by a knee injury but expected to return to full fitness over the next couple of weeks. An inspirational figure at No 8. Rodney Ah You Still a baby in propping terms but a player with massive, destructive potential -- as he showed when helping to dismantle the Ireland scrum in August. Domestic John Muldoon The captaincy has passed to Gavin Duffy, but Muldoon remains a leading personality in the Connacht back-row. After years trying to get there, the Portumna man will relish the opportunity to perform on the Heineken Cup stage. Brett Wilkinson Irish-qualified South African whose scrummaging power could propel him up the international ladder this season. Mike McCarthy Super form last season earned McCarthy his first Ireland cap in August and he has made a good start to the new campaign -- key provider of possession out of touch... Original

Elwood hopes to have big three back in action

CONNACHT COACH Eric Elwood is hoping to have Miah Nikora, George Naoupu and Fetu'u Vainikolo for Saturday's RaboDirect Pro 12 League game against Cardiff Blues at the Sportsground. Nikora has yet to play this season after suffering a stress fracture to a leg but he came through an A interprovincial against Munster last Friday. Number eight Naoupu has recovered from a knee injury sustained against Edinburgh and is expected to be in contention for selection. Connacht's only representative at the recent Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, Tongan wing Vainikolo, is expected to make his competitive bow. He made his debut for Tonga during the summer, scoring a try in his second Test against Fiji and then in the World Cup played in the 25-20 defeat to Canada before crossing for his country's third try in the victory over Japan... read the rest

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