Saturday 10 December 2016

Henshaw boost for revenge mission as Connacht bid to stay in top four

Daragh Small

Published 30/01/2016 | 02:30

Connacht are welcoming the return of Robbie Henshaw. Photo: David Maher / Sportsfile
Connacht are welcoming the return of Robbie Henshaw. Photo: David Maher / Sportsfile

Connacht coach Pat Lam reckons a win over the table-topping Scarlets would be the ideal way to end this 16-week block of games.

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Connacht have not won in the Pro12 since November and only qualified for the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup due to results elsewhere.

Their squad has been tested but this week they reported no new injury concerns, and the return of three of the Ireland Six Nations contingent - including Robbie Henshaw - is a huge boost.

Henshaw has played just one game for Lam's side since he injured his hand in the historic win at Thomond Park back in November.

The Athlone native made a try-scoring comeback last weekend, and has likely been released from Ireland camp by Joe Schmidt in order to ramp up his preparations for next week's Six Nations opener against Wales.

Connacht clash with the Welsh side today on the back of last weekend's 47-5 victory over Enisei-STM, where they scored eight tries, and they are full of confidence.

Their last league outing was a demoralising last-minute 21-19 defeat away to Scarlets and Lam's men will be seeking revenge as they bid to stay in the play-off positions.

Lam has acted accordingly and made six changes to his team as he looks to keeps things fresh and bag a crucial win.

"It would be a nice way to finish (with a win). It's been a long stretch, these 16 games. I said at the start it's going to be a disadvantage for the smaller squads, and we have the smaller squad, and it's going to take its toll," he said.

"With some of the injuries coming back we are starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel. In saying that, a lot of young boys have been given opportunities and they have really taken them.

"It's a real credit to the whole squad and the whole organisation, and it will be a massive credit if we can get out of these 16 games in the top four."

Lam has made two changes to his backline, where scrum-half Caolin Blade pairs up with Jack Carty at half-back, while Bundee Aki's midfield partnership with Henshaw will be key.

Up front, versatile prop Finlay Bealham is used on the tighthead side after he was also released from Ireland camp for the game. He props down alongside hooker Tom McCartney, who scored a try last weekend.

Ireland squad member Ultan Dillane is named on the bench, with George Naoupu taking his place in the second-row, while openside Jake Heenan comes in as the only other alteration.

Connacht are looking for only their second win in nine against Scarlets. However they beat them 14-8 at home last season and Lam is desperate for a repeat of that.

"In the context of it, this game is one versus four. We win this game we stay in the top four. We haven't dropped below four yet," he said.

"It's well documented, our main goal is to make sure that we get into that top six. But this game is purely about staying in the top four this week.

"Scarlets at the top for a reason, and despite their European form not being so good, their Pro12 form has been. If we don't prepare well then we will be in trouble.

Verdict: Connacht

Connacht - T O'Halloran; D Poolman, R Henshaw, B Aki, M Healy; J Carty, C Blade; D Buckley, T McCartney, F Bealham; G Naoupu, A Muldowney; J Muldoon, J Heenan, E Masterson. Reps: D Heffernan, R Loughney, R Ah You, U Dillane, J Connolly, I Porter, C Ronaldson, R Parata.

Scarlets - L Williams; T Williams, G Owen, H Parkes, DTH van der Merwe; A Thomas, R Williams; P John, R Elias, R Jones; T Price, L Rawlins; A Shingler, W Boyde, M Allen. Reps: K Myhill, D Evans, P Edwards, J Jones, T Phillips, C Lloyd, S Shingler, M Collins.

Ref - B Whitehouse (WRU).

Connacht v Scarlets,

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