McCartney to miss Champions play-offs
Connacht have been hit with the loss of one of their key leaders in hooker Tom McCartney for the rest of the season.
The 31-year-old will be Irish qualified in November and has always been considered a guaranteed international as long as his body and form hold up.
It should mean a more central role for former Leinster Academy loose-head prop-turned-hooker Shane Delahunt and Dave Heffernan for what is left of the season.
McCartney will undergo surgery this week and will be absent from Connacht's Champions Cup play-off semi-final away to either the seventh-ranked French Top-14 or Premiership club.
The same scenario goes for prop Ronan Loughney (arm) and utility back Stacey Ili (ankle) as they sit out the rest of the campaign.
Tight-head prop JP Cooney will be monitored this week from sustaining a minor shoulder injury against Edinburgh last Friday.
Flanker James Connolly and full-back Darragh Leader have both been introduced back into training after rehabilitation periods with hamstring issues.
The PRO12 League will provide seven direct qualifiers into The Champions Cup for next season.
However, it must include a Scottish club, with Glasgow stationed in sixth, and an Italian club from either Zebre in 11th and Benetton Treviso in 12th.
This leaves five automatic qualifiers with The Scarlets, in fourth, and Ulster, in fifth, equal on points and as many as 19 points clear of the Connacht men.
The fact that Edinburgh are 21 points behind Connacht in ninth means the Irish province and, almost certainly, Cardiff will make their way to the play-off semi-finals which will take place on the weekend of May 19/20/21.
Given the current standings, it is Connacht who have nothing but provincial pride at stake when Leinster come calling to The Sportsground on Saturday.
At the moment, the leaders need seven points from their final three League matches to ensure the Top-2 finish that would guarantee a home semi-final with the final scheduled for The Aviva Stadium on May 27th.