Lam confident flagging Connacht can douse Dragons' fire
CONNACHT coach Pat Lam has called upon his free-falling side to halt their sinking feeling after admitting that their Pro12 campaign is on the brink.
"We sit in sixth place but we have lost our safety net," says the Kiwi, whose side's league form has dipped alarmingly this year after failing to follow up their famous New Year's Day derby win against Munster.
Then, they briefly lifted themselves above league champions Leinster but now, as a gaggle of advancing form sides queue up behind them in the Champions Cup qualification race, their sagging momentum has been reduced to a mere walking pace ahead of this trip to the Dragons tomorrow.
"It's now eight games to go and everything is a final," adds Lam after his side were blitzed by Scarlets last weekend. "It's as simple as that.
"But ultimately that's a good challenge. So while everyone was pretty down after the weekend, the review highlighted everything is fixable.
"We have a pretty tough game down there against a team who beat Leinster so it is a big challenge for us in the context of where we are in the season."
Lam has made three changes to his side. On his return from injury, Craig Ronaldson has been named to start at inside centre while Dave McSharry moves outside him and Danie Poolman switches out to the wing.
After his brief return to Leinster last week, John Cooney is back in the starting team at scrum-half and will partner Jack Carty. There is just one change to the pack with George Naoupu making way for 21-year-old Eoghan Masterson, who will make his first start of the season at number eight.
Boris Stankovich will return to the Dragons' XV and the 34-year-old's return is the only change to the team that shocked last year's Pro12 table toppers Leinster at the RDS last weekend.
"It's fantastic that we got a win against the champions," says coach Kingsley Jones. "I thought that we deserved the win. The real challenge for us is at Rodney Parade, we haven't performed as well as we would've liked to have done there."
Indeed, despite the fact that Connacht have not won away from home in the tournament since they visited Treviso last October, they have won in two of their last three visits here.
Dragons' sole victory in their last seven encounters with Connacht was 14-3 in Newport - way back in November 2012 so history, if not form, backs their claims.
"We can step up, I think we have shown that," says Lam. "We are determined to show who we really are as a team."
Dragons - J Tovey; T Prydie, P Leach, J Dixon, H Amos; D Jones, J Evans; B Stankovich, T Rhys Thomas, B Harris, A Coombs, R Landman capt, J Thomas, N Cudd, N Crosswell. Reps: R Buckley, P Price, D Way, I Gough, J Benjamin, R Rees, A Smith, M Pewtner.
Connacht - D Leader; D Poolman, D McSharry, C Ronaldson, M Healy; J Carty, J Cooney; D Buckley, T McCartney, N White, Q Roux, A Muldowney, J Muldoon capt, J Heenan, E Masterson. Reps: S Delahunt, R Ah You, F Bealham, M Kearney, G Naoupu, I Porter, N Adeolokun, T O'Halloran.
Ref - L Hinton (SRU).