Injury-hit Connacht turn to their young guns
It has been a season of knocking down barriers for Connacht and coach Pat Lam will hope that continues today at Kingston Park as they bid to chalk up a fourth win in the Challenge Cup and all but secure a place in the quarter-finals.
Connacht were made to work hard for their 25-10 win over the Falcons at the Sportsground and Lam knows that Dean Richards' men will be keen for a boost ahead of their festive fixtures, having failed to register a win in six Premiership outings.
That's in stark contrast to a Connacht side who have won seven from nine in the Pro12 and won all three European games.
But England has never been a happy hunting ground for Connacht and while they took a big scalp when they first visited in 1997-'98, shocking a Northampton side laden with Lions and internationals, they have managed only one other win in 15 visits. Victory today would end a four-match losing run in England but experienced lock Aly Muldowney reckons they have what it takes, despite an injury crisis which sees them travel with just 22 players.
The 32-year old, who previously had spells with Glasgow Warriors and Exeter Chiefs, skippered them for the first time in the win over Falcons. But he says they have plenty of leaders in the squad and George Naoupu takes over the mantle today.
The injury crisis has threatened to derail Connacht but Muldowney said that they have a good squad, especially with so many young players coming through and the injury crisis will not be used as an excuse.
"It was just a chance for us now to prove what our squad can do," he said.
"Guys are doing great in the academy, those are really helping us and coming through and pushing us on."
And he said it was a huge boost having out-half Jack Carty in top form - last weekend he landed seven from eight kicks in a 20-point haul.
"It's huge, it such a big boost for us. There were some really big kicks.
"It is so easy for us as a team then to have that confidence in your ten's kicking ability.
"It's a matter now of building on that win and heading into the Christmas games with a boost," added the lock forward.
Newcastle Falcons: S Hammersley; A Tait, B Agulla, C Harris, M Watson; C Willis, S Takulua; A Rogers, S Lawson, J Welsh; M Botha, S Robinson; W Welch (capt), D Temm, A Hogg. Replacements: G McGuigan, R Vickers, T Vea, C Green, R Mayhew, M Young, T Catterick, J Pablo Socino
Connacht: D Poolman; R Parata, P Robb, C Ronaldson, N Adeolokun; S O'Leary, C Blade; C O'Donnell, J Harris-Wright, R Ah You; D Qualter, A Browne; S O'Brien, E Masterson, G Naoupu (capt). Replacements: S Delahunt, F Bealham, S Meunargia, A Muldowney, D Heffernan, I Porter, J Carty.
Sunday Indo Sport