Lam: Now's the time to hit form
Connacht coach Pat Lam has challenged his players to shine for Connacht in order to help their international claims down the line.
Lam will hope that his side can show their best form on Sunday when they take on English Premiership outfit Gloucester at Kingsholm as the sides play off with the aim of reaching the Champions Cup for next season.
A win on Sunday will leave Connacht facing a second play-off with the Top 14's seventh-placed team - currently Johnny Sexton's Racing Metro - and the former Blues coach says excelling against the best teams is the best way for Connacht players to progress into the Ireland shirt.
This week eight of the province's players were selected for the Emerging Ireland squad to compete at the Tbilisi Cup in June, but Lam wants success for his players on the home front first.
"We always say to the boys, 'You know, you do the business here in Connacht as a team, you'll get recognised'.
"This year our pure focus has been on reaching the top six and Connacht earning their place. We've done so much here and these guys are getting recognised so it's a pleasing representation for the work that the team have done.
"We've got eight players which is fantastic. (We're) really, really pleased and there's a few guys who are on that injured list that would've had a really good shot then too," said Lam.
Of the eight Connacht players named - Denis Buckley, Eoghan Masterson, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Eoin McKeon, John Cooney, Matt Healy and Tiernan O'Halloran - Buckley is perhaps the most likely to force his way into Joe Schmidt's World Cup plans after a season that saw him named as loose-head in the Pro12's team of the year.
"Denis has been recognised as an example for all the work that he's done. Before, Denis was very much thinking about playing for Ireland and gaining higher honours and he's no different to a lot of them," said Lam.
Former Connacht centre Eoin Griffin has also earned a call-up for the three-game tournament in Georgia and Ireland coach Joe Schmidt says it's a huge chance for players to impress.
"There are some exciting prospects in this Emerging Ireland squad and the Tbilisi Cup is an ideal challenge for them," said Schmidt.