Lam to go full tilt in bid to see Connacht into quarter-finals
Published 22/01/2016 | 02:30
The failure to get a bonus point, when losing 29-5 away to Newcastle Falcons before Christmas, has cost Connacht as dearly as the sloppy manner they let a winning hand slip in Brive last weekend as they bid to reach the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup.
The nett result is that Pat Lam will have to go with his best possible starting side tomorrow against Russian newcomers Enisei-STM and just hope results elsewhere play their part in getting them across the line.
A losing bonus point in Newcastle - the sides were level 5-5 at the break before the wheels came off after the restart - would be invaluable now as Lam's men would have their destiny in their own hands this weekend and a bonus-point victory would guarantee them a quarter-final place for the second season in succession.
Lam said he will be going full tilt with his squad selection for tomorrow's crucial Challenge Cup. A call will be made today on whether Robbie Henshaw is fit to play following his delayed recovery from a hand injury.
Lam, whose side host Pro12 leaders Scarlets at the Sportsground next weekend, said he would be putting his best hand forward for the encounter with the Russian newcomers.
Connacht really need a bonus point win to have a strong chance of advancing but they are facing a side who have downed both Brive and Newcastle Falcons this term.
Even a four-try bonus point win over the Russians may not be enough after Connacht's disappointing last gasp 21-18 defeat at Brive last weekend.
Brive have qualification for the quarter-finals in their own hands and if they beat Newcastle, scoring four tries, they will advance as Pool 1 victors and that would leave Connacht scrambling for a best runners-up spot.
So the stakes are high for Lam and his young Connacht side, who have only lost once at the Sportsground this season. But he feels they can pull it off as long as don't underestimate Enisei-STM.
"They will be no pushovers and if we do not prepare well, and give them the respect they deserve, to get five points is going to be the challenge. They are big men, played some really good rugby, so we do not underestimate them," he said.
"The strongest possible available squad will be named. We are back at the Sportsground, this is do or die for us in this competition, so we will be putting the strongest possible side out to win the game, and win the game well."
Lam could potentially have four of the Ireland Six Nations squad available to him -Henshaw, Nathan White, Kieran Marmion and Ultan Dillane were picked by Joe Schmidt this week.