Monday 16 July 2018

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Connacht stars at disadvantage in fight for Ireland call - McKeon

Connacht's Eoin McKeon. Photo: Max Pratelli / Sportsfile
Connacht's Eoin McKeon. Photo: Max Pratelli / Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Connacht back-row Eoin McKeon believes players from the western province must work harder than their rivals to earn international recognition.

Pat Lam's side are the last Irish team standing in Europe this weekend as they prepare to take on Bernard Jackman's Grenoble in their Challenge Cup quarter-final in France tonight, while they are second in the Guinness Pro12 with three games to go in the regular season.

Their success this season has led to calls for the inclusion of the likes of Matt Healy and Denis Buckley, but Connacht were the province with the lowest representation in Ireland's Six Nations squad.

Joe Schmidt did hand debuts to Finlay Bealham and Ultan Dillane, who joined Robbie Henshaw, Kieran Marmion and Nathan White in the set-up.

However, McKeon, who was man of the match against Leinster and starts at openside tonight, believes that there is still a sense that players from Connacht must do more to earn Schmidt's trust.

"I find that sometimes - possibly not this year - but I would have a lot more caps than some lads from the other provinces and they'd be getting the international nod ahead of me," he said.

"I'm thinking, 'I've played so much more games, but they're there purely on the basis that they're playing for a different province, they get the nod'.

"You can't ignore raw talent and Robbie, Ulty (Dillane) being a freak, Finlay (Bealham) just coming along leaps and bounds.

"I can't complain this year, I've missed a lot of games in the middle part of the season. If I had played through that block and hadn't gotten the nod, then I probably would feel a bit more bitter.

"Do we have to work harder? I think so, it's still is at that stage where we have to kind of push that little bit more. You could go on for days comparing players, but at the end of the day Joe is going to pick whoever he is most confident with. Leinster lads have an advantage, because he knows them well."

Pat Lam has named the 24-year-old at No 7 for tonight's game after Jake Heenan rolled his ankle in training and was ruled out.

Marmion returns to the side at scrum-half, while Healy shifts to full-back as Henshaw partners Bundee Aki in the centre.

Jackman has named his strongest possible side and both camps are predicting a high-scoring encounter between two sides who play an attractive brand of rugby.

And McKeon believes that his side have enough in the tank to earn a place in the last four.

"It'd be pretty sweet," the Galway native said. "I'd be pretty confident that we could do a job (in Grenoble) and I'd be pretty disappointed if we don't.

"It won't be easy, they play pretty similar to us; we had the boys running out there at training and you realise that we are a nightmare to defend, we move it so much. That was probably the first time we'd run our own plays against each other. We've a similar set-up, it was tough work.

"That's what they're going to be like, I'd imagine it'll be high scoring with a lot of running. I'd love to do well over there, come back and have a home semi."

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