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Cup gives Connacht chance of redemption: Friend

Andy Friend was in no mood to sit on his hands when asked about the Rainbow Cup.

Regardless of the one-off competition now having reached its third version before any on-field action begins, the Connacht head coach made it clear that his players intend to throw everything at the Cup, and not only because it is the only competition remaining for them but, also crucially, to help expunge from the memory banks what has been a disappointing run of recent form.

Connacht's Challenge Cup last-16 knockout encounter with Leicester Tigers ended very badly for the westerners at Welford Road, the visitors' considerably more experienced side failing to fire in the 48-32 loss which ended their interest in Europe.

That one hurt much more than losing their last three Guinness PRO14 games and being denied play-off rugby due to the Rainbow Cup's emergence.

So, this new structure offers some form of redemption but also gives Connacht, in Friend's view, the opportunity to finish off the season with the consistency they so crave.

Starting with a trip to Belfast is hardly the softest of landings, though. Still, Connacht travel as strong as they can be, though they are still without Bundee Aki, Jarrad Butler and Quinn Roux, while Alex Wootton - who was involved at Welford Road - also misses out.

It's asking a lot of Connacht to function without being able to deploy their best hand, so much rests on the game-management of Jack Carty and the experience of Ultan Dillane, Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham to lead from the front.

And if Connacht do get a decent platform, they can release the notable running skills of John Porch, Matt Healy and Tom Daly.

It's a huge ask though.

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