Pat Lam forced to reshuffle deck amid injury crisis as Connacht await Newcastle
Connacht coach Pat Lam has made 10 changes from the side that lost to the Cardiff Blues last week for Friday's Challenge Cup clash against the Newcastle Falcons.
Having started the campaign so brightly, the Western province is now in the throes of a full-scale injury crisis with 18 players unavailable to Lam, including Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Kieran Marmion, John Muldoon and Craig Ronaldson.
The Kiwi has been forced to dig deep into his player pool in a bid to a field a side that will trouble the Falcons in the Round 3 tie at the Sportsground.
Jack Carty is retained at outhalf while 21-year-old Caolin Blade is handed the number 9 shirt for his first start this season, having made an appearance from the bench in Krasnoyarsk last month.
There is a new mid field partnership with Academy duo Rory Parata and Peter Robb named to start. Niyi Adeolokun is promoted to the right wing while Matt Healy, on the left, gets his first taste of European action this season. Galway man Tiernan O’Halloran will captain the side from fullback.
In the pack, there are just two players remaining from last week – Aly Muldowney and James Connolly, who, this week, was one of three Academy players to sign a senior contract for next season.
Prop Finlay Bealham, now the only player to have been involved in every game this season, starts in a new front row with Jason Harris-Wright and Ireland international Nathan White.
Ultan Dillane returns to the second row to partner Muldowney while Galway man Sean O’Brien earns his first ever senior start coming in to a back row with Connolly and the experienced George Naoupu at Number 8.
Danny Qualter is included among the replacements while Dave Heffernan will be required to cover the back row from the bench. Shane O’Leary and Danie Poolman have both returned from injury to take their place in the match day squad.
Connacht suffered just their second loss of the league campaign in Cardiff and, having named his side today, Lam noted the difficulty of the present predicament.
"With 18 players unavailable through injury from our European squad, it was certainly a challenge to piece together a match day squad for tomorrow. We are forced to name the 23 remaining players which include three hookers in the team as Dave (Heffernan) will be required to cover the backrow. Thankfully Danie (Poolman) and Ian (Porter) passed late fitness tests this morning to take their place on the bench. While it isn’t ideal, it’s simply another test for us to meet head on.
“Newcastle will bring their own strengths and we are expecting a very physical battle. Despite all the changes, If we work together as a team and stick to our structures tomorrow night, we’ll increase our chances of getting the job done. We’re really looking forward to playing back at the Sportsground in front of our home crowd again after a few weeks on the road,” he said.
Connacht team to face Newcastle Falcons
Tiernan O’Halloran (captain), Niyi Adeolokun, Rory Parata, Peter Robb, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade, Finlay Bealham, Jason Harris-Wright, Nathan White, Ultan Dillane, Aly Muldowney, Sean O’Brien, James Connolly, George Naoupu.
Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Conan O’Donnell, Rodney Ah You, Danny Qualter, Dave Heffern, Ian Porter, Shane O’Leary, Danie Poolman.