Thursday 18 January 2018

Clarke returns from injury to spearhead Connacht's shot at historic last-eight spot

Connacht's Craig Clarke during a press conference
Connacht's Craig Clarke during a press conference

Declan Rooney

Connacht's bid to reach the knockout stages of the Heineken Cup for the first time has been boosted by the return to full fitness of captain Craig Clarke.

Clarke missed Saturday's win against Zebre at the Sportsground with a neck injury sustained against Leinster the previous week, but he has shaken off the effects in time for the last Pool 3 tie away to Saracens.

And in a further boost, Clarke's regular second-row partner Mick Kearney and utility forward Aly Muldowney are both likely to be fit for the Allianz Park tussle.

Kearney was forced to leave the action against Zebre after just 18 minutes because of a shoulder injury, but Connacht coach Pat Lam is confident his lock will be ready for action.

"Mick has a bit of a shoulder injury from the weekend. He's on light duty at the start of the week, but we are hopeful he could be right for selection," said Lam.

"Craig Clarke is back on deck, Craig Ronaldson and Aly Muldowney are both back on deck too this week, but Dave McSharry (ankle) is probably another two or three weeks away. We have a break after this game so that will help."

Even a bonus-point victory over the English Premiership leaders might not be enough to give Connacht the last remaining quarter-final berth, but Lam thinks a third away win of the competition will guarantee his side springtime European rugby.

"It's quite a massive game for us. We have a chance, we have put ourselves in a position in the way the games have gone (last) weekend," he said.

"If we win we'll definitely be in Europe, it's just a case of what competition. So for us to achieve that we have to focus on ourselves, have a clear game plan.

"Going to Toulouse to win, we did our work, figured out a way to beat them. Then collectively as a group the boys worked on that process and stayed together. That's the only way we are going to win.

"There is no chance for us if we go individuals against individuals. But collectively as a group we have got a chance."

Irish Independent

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