Wednesday 21 February 2018

Connacht 'digging deep' to overcome injury woes – Lam

Connacht head coach Pat Lam
Connacht head coach Pat Lam
Dave McSharry, Connacht
Conor George

Conor George

SPARE a thought for Pam Lam as he prepares his side to host Glasgow Warriors this evening.

He is holding the team together with sticking tape and plasters as they are caught in the throes of an injury crisis that has left them dangerously under-strength.

This is especially the case when it comes to his roster of back-row forwards. They are falling like pins caught in the path of a renegade bowling ball with John Muldoon, Willie Faloon and Eoin McKeown now joined on the absentee list by Andrew Browne and Aaron Conneely.

Connacht are also missing centre Eoin Griffin and Miah Nikora to long-term injury and are denied access to Robbie Henshaw this weekend as he is on international duty.

This is not what Lam signed up for when he was lured from New Zealand by the prospect of an improving and highly ambitious Connacht.

Their eighth-place finish in last season's Pro12 held the promise of better to come. When former Chiefs captain Craig Clarke and former All Blacks U-20 skipper Jake Heenan were added to the roster for this season, the possibilities seemed endless.

Just a month ago, Lam and veteran second-row Michael Swift spoke confidently about Connacht's desire to stand on their own merits and stated their support for meritocracy-based Heineken Cup qualification.

PAIN

Now Connacht are rooted to the bottom of the table. They have won just one of their six games and this evening they face a Warriors side who are feeling the pain of a first league defeat of the season – after Munster's JJ Hanrahan turned in a virtuoso display to put them to the sword last weekend.

Connacht will take confidence from their performance against Leinster when they were only undone by the concession of a penalty try in the final moments of the game in the RDS.

Whether or not it's enough to finally see them match endeavour with reward is a question that desperately needs a positive answer.

In search of that elusive victory, Lam has made four changes to the side and, in a welcome development, Dave McSharry earns his first start in 10 months – having made his initial return from injury last month when he was a replacement in the 33-6 Heineken Cup victory over Zebre.

The 23-year-old is named in the centre and is partnered by 20-year-old Darragh Leader. Connacht's leading try-scorer Fionn Carr is named on the right wing in a back three also featuring Gavin Duffy and Matt Healy.

Up front, Jason Harris-Wright will start as hooker in his 25th appearance for the province, while tighthead prop Nathan White is among the replacements after a three-week injury-enforced absence.

"Once again, it's been a disruptive week, with more players being added to our ever-growing injury list," said Lam. "Losing Sean Henry, Andrew Browne, Aaron Conneely and Danie Poolman to injury and Robbie Henshaw to the Ireland camp has meant that we've had to dig deep as a group.

"Glasgow are at the top end of the table and are a team who have been consistently improving the last number of years.

"I witnessed their last visit in May when I had first arrived here. They were an impressive outfit and very clinical in beating us.

"They are one of the best defensive outfits in the competition and will punish any errors.

"But we have been building and building on the performances and fight of the last few weeks and are really looking forward to this clash."

Glasgow will seek to heap on the misery, with coach Gregor Townsend emphasising their desire to "make up" for last weekend's first loss of the league season.

"We were all disappointed with the defeat to Munster last weekend and we're determined to pick ourselves up," he said.

Townsend has made a number of changes to the side that lost to Munster.

Dougie Hall will make his 150th league appearance, replacing Pat MacArthur at hooker. Niko Matawalu comes in for Sean Maitland at full-back, while Byron McGuigan and DTH van der Merwe continue on either wing.

Mark Bennett and Gabriel Ascarate form the centre partnership, while Duncan Weir and Chris Cusiter continue at fly-half and scrum-half respectively.

The Warriors have won all three of their away games in the Pro12 this season and have won on two of their last three visits to Ireland.

Verdict: Glasgow

CONNACHT – G Duffy, F Carr, D Leader, D McSharry, M Healy, D Parks, K Marmion, B Wilkinson, J Harris-Wright, R Ah You, M Swift, C Clarke, M Fifita, J Heenan, G Naoupu. Reps: D Heffernan, JP Cooney, N White, A Muldowney, M Kearney, P O'Donohoe, C Ronaldson, T O'Halloran

GLASGOW WARRIORS – N Matawalu, B McGuigan, M Bennett, G Ascarate, DTH van der Merwe, D Weir, C Cusiter, G Reid, D Hall, J Welsh, T Ryder, J Gray, R Harley, C Fusaro, J Strauss. Reps: F Brown, M Low, E Kalman, R Vernon, L Nakarawa, T Holmes, S Wight, F Russell.

REF – Neil Paterson (SRU)

Irish Independent

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