Thursday 19 October 2017

Lam: Euro feats show we can beat anyone

Gavin Duffy will make his 170th appearance for Connacht tonight
Gavin Duffy will make his 170th appearance for Connacht tonight
David Kelly

David Kelly

Connacht coach Pat Lam has urged his side to translate their European heroics against Toulouse into the domestic arena as they seek to haul themselves off the bottom of the Pro12 table.

"We have to move into the Rabo season again now and we want to get off the bottom of the table," said Lam ahead of tonight's Galway visit of Welsh outfit Dragons (5.0).

Lam's side secured a historic win in France a fortnight ago although an illness-ravaged squad crumbled in the return fixture.

"We cannot focus on where we are, we just have to get our game right and our heart right," he added. "If all those elements are okay then hopefully the results will follow.

"What we showed against Toulouse over there is that we can beat any team. If we do exactly what we plan as a group and play as a team, we can beat anyone, regardless of who they are."

Nevertheless, Connacht's most faithful friend is their inconsistency so it's difficult to know what trick to expect them to pull next on their unsuspecting public.

Sadly, while Connacht may be capable of adhering to the cliche of beating "any one team on any one particular day", every other team thinks they are capable of beating Connacht on every other day.

Nothing sums the Westerners up better than their wildly fluctuating efforts this season which, all at once, indicates just how much potential exists west of the Shannon -- yet also how often it fails to deliver.

Only Connacht could manage the extraordinary feat of compiling a run of a dozen games that features a whole avalanche of defeats and just two wins -- but what wins!

Typically, both those victories derived where one would least expect them -- away from home and within environments where one would least anticipate them, the white hot fury of the Heineken Cup.

When it comes to caviar, Connacht are no strangers to occasional consumption.

It's the bread and butter -- they were humiliated in defeat to Edinburgh a week before mugging Toulouse -- they so often turn their noses up at.

"It's a fact we are bottom in the Rabo," said Lam. "How we go about changing that is bottling what we did against Toulouse and putting it on the pitch.

"If we can do that the table will look after itself. If we don't do that and have more of the Edinburgh-style performances, then we'll stay there."

After those December heroics which threw up an astonishing victory against the multiple European champions Toulouse, regrettably it was Lam's side who were throwing up for the return clash, with many of his side succumbing to a rampant virus last week.

Nevertheless, Lam has only made two changes to his team; clearly there are better opportunities for points here compared to their forthcoming inter-provincial clashes.

Mayo man Gavin Duffy starts on the right wing for his 170th provincial appearance in an otherwise unchanged backline.

Prop Nathan White, who missed last week's game due to the squad illness, represents the only change to the pack.

On the bench, 22-year-old Dave Heffernan has been called in as replacement hooker for the unavailable Sean Henry, while Academy out-half and Eagles captain Jack Carty has also been called up.

"We had a shorter week in terms of training sessions as we had to give the players a day off on Monday to shake off the flu virus," explains Lam.

WEATHER

"We also had to plan without Craig Ronaldson, Frank Murphy and Sean, who we lost to injury last week.

"With the forecasted weather conditions, back-three coverage for kicks is crucial so it's great to bring back the experience and voice of Gavin Duffy."

The Dragons are a curiosity too; they lie seventh in the table but are already out of Europe, with defeat to Bordeaux confirming their Amlin Challenge Cup exit last weekend.

They have made five changes -- one of them positional. New signing Cory Hill moves into the second-row in place of Robert Sidoli in the sole change to the pack.

Behind the scrum, Richie Rees returns at scrum-half with Welsh internationals Hallam Amos and Will Harries coming in on the wing, allowing Ross Wardle to move to centre.

"Dragons are an improved side this year," says Lam, noting that Connacht turn over more ball than anyone else in the Pro12 while Dragons are the least prodigal with possession.

Something will have to give.

Verdict: Connacht.

Connacht -- R Henshaw; G Duffy, E Griffin, D McSharry, M Healy; D Parks, K Marmion; B Wilkinson, J Harris-Wright, N White, M Kearney, C Clarke (cpt), J Muldoon, J Heenan, E McKeon. Reps: D Heffernan, D Buckley, R Ah You, A Browne, G Naoupu, P O'Donohoe, J Carty, F Carr.

Dragons -- D Evans; W Harries, P Leach, R Wardle; Hallam Amos, Jason Tovey; R Rees, O Evans, S Parry, F Chaparro, A Coombs (c), C Hill, L Evans, N Cudd, T Faletau. Reps: T Rhys Thomas, H Gustafson, D Way, M Screech, I Jones, W Evans, S Jones, A Smith.

REF -- A Rolland (IRFU)

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