Pat Lam adamant Connacht can rediscover scoring touch
Connacht's to-do list this season has been a model of achievement. Between the Liberty Stadium and Thomond Park, they have buried negative stats that had been following them around forever.
The next on their list of places to conquer comes this afternoon in Parc y Scarlets. Their last success in Llanelli was in 2004, in the old Stradey Park; since the development of the new venue, Connacht have had no joy there.
Having lost both Christmas derbies, Scarlets might look likely victims, but Pat Lam's side have fallen into a hole of their own over the last month, with three losses between Europe and the Pro 12. In the process, their try-fest, which sustained their run for the first half of the season, has run dry. Lam reckons they can turn that around pronto.
"We hope so," he says. "We've looked at the reasons why, as a coaching group, and we've factored that into our game-plan. Again, if we can bring the same sort of intensity and effort that we've been producing all season, and channel that into being more clinical and build pressure, then we'll give ourselves a great chance against Scarlets.
"We're creating opportunities that we're not quite finishing off, but we've got to put that into the context of the conditions. Against Ulster, that was the first time we hadn't scored a try in a game. Both teams struggled in the conditions and they scored in the last minute of the game. And at the weekend, too (against Leinster), they were horrendous conditions, and with the fire and emotion of a derby game, both defences were very good."
The conditions in Llanelli this afternoon won't be dry, but at least there is no typhoon forecast. And Connacht, despite having cornered the market this season on lengthy injury lists, have a decent combination available, with Ultan Dillane - for Aly Muldowney - the only change from the side that lost to Leinster last weekend.
Scarlets have had their own share of problems in that department, but the return of John Barclay at open side - their position hardest hit - is good news for them. And they need it. However, if Lam's side can add this venue to their bag of big scalps this season, then it will work on a few levels: puncturing the Welsh side's start to the new year, and turning around their own. Lots to play for then.
Scarlets: M Collins; S Evans, R King, H Parkes, DTH van der Merwe; A Thomas, A Davies; R Evans, K Owens, S Lee, T Price, L Rawlins, A Shingler, M Allen, J Barclay. Replacements: R Elias, P John, R Jones, M Paulino, R Pitman, R Williams, S Shingler, S Hughes.
Connacht: T O'Halloran; N Adeolokun, B Aki, C Ronaldson, M Healy; J Carty, K Marmion; F Bealham, T McCartney, N White, U Dillane, A Browne, J Muldoon (capt), E Masterson, J Heenan. Replacements: D Heffernan, R Loughney, R Ah You, A Muldowney, S O'Brien, I Porter, A McGinty, R Parata.
Referee: M Mitrea (Italy)
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