Saturday 24 March 2018

Lam admits elusive win 'much needed'

Connacht coach still upbeat despite long losing streak

Robbie Henshaw returns to action for Connacht
Robbie Henshaw returns to action for Connacht
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

BACK in their all-too-familiar position at the foot of the table, the numbers of this season don't make for kind reading for Connacht.

The introduction of the Italian clubs and an upsurge in fortunes meant the province could reach for mid-table rather than just prop up the Pro12 in recent seasons, but while they have put in some noteworthy performances, most notably away to Leinster, Connacht's struggles continue.

Along with Zebre, they have managed just one league win this season, and they trail the Italians by a point in the standings.

Tonight the Westerners visit Murrayfield, where Edinburgh have sustained just a single defeat this campaign -- Munster are among those who have been banished from the Scottish capital by Alan Solomons' men.

For Connacht, there have been seven straight league defeats since the opening-day win over Zebre -- the side that provided their only other win of the season, in the Heineken Cup -- as the Pat Lam era has gotten off to a slow start.

And with a trip to Toulouse in the Heineken Cup coming down the track next weekend, Lam admits a victory this weekend is "much needed".

"We know winning at this level comes down to fine margins, which has been frustrating for all of us so far this season," Lam said.

"But we are determined to capitalise on every opportunity we create to give us a chance of a much-needed win here."

There was some good news this week as Robbie Henshaw, one of the province's most promising players, penned a new deal. He is one of those being eyed as a potential replacement for Brian O'Driscoll -- whom he replaced in the clash with Australia earlier this month -- in the Ireland No 13 shirt.

But with Connacht's established midfield partnership of Dave McSharry and Eoin Griffin available, he starts tonight in his more familiar position of full-back, with Gavin Duffy on the bench.

The replacements include rallying figure John Muldoon and experienced scrum-half Frank Murphy, who played for the first time in over a year last weekend.

Former Scotland out-half Dan Parks returns to a venue he knows well, while the province's record tryscorer Fionn Carr is also named to start.

Connacht's most recent away success in the competition came at Murrayfield last season, when Henshaw's late try saw them snatch victory at the death. But Edinburgh were in a state of flux at that stage after the departure of Michael Bradley.

"We face another challenge away from home," Lam agreed. "This season, Edinburgh have proven a strong side who are tough to beat at home.

"They have won their last three games at Murrayfield, including an excellent Heineken Cup win over Munster.


"Our squad has been boosted by the return of Robbie and Eoin (McKeon) while John (Muldoon) passed a late fitness test which sees him named on the bench.

"We need to deliver a performance that gives us every chance of getting the result."

Edinburgh coach Solomons welcomes Scotland international Ross Rennie back for his first start since he damaged his shoulder in against the All Blacks last year.

In all, they include seven Scottish internationals in their side after last week's 24-point defeat in Belfast and will have one eye on the visit of Gloucester in the Heineken Cup on Sunday week.

"Connacht are always a difficult side," Solomons said.

"They were very unlucky to lose against Leinster and my experience in my time at Ulster is that they are always a tricky side to play -- and funnily enough, they are like that home or away.

"They have certainly caused some big upsets in their time and one certainly can't underestimate them.

"It is important to win your home games but for us, it is still about continuous improvement week on week. There is no reason why we should not look for that."

Verdict: Connacht

EDINBURGH -- G Tonks; D Fife, N De Luca, B Atiga, J Cuthbert; H Leonard, G Laidlaw; A Dickinson, A Lutui, WP Nel; O Atkins, I van der Westhuizen; C Du Preez, R Rennie, D Denton. Reps: J Hilterbrand, W Blaauw, G Cross, S Cox, R Grant, S Hidalgo-Clyne, S Beard, T Brown.

CONNACHT -- R Henshaw; F Carr, E Griffin, D McSharry, M Healy; D Parks, K Marmion; R Loughney, S Henry, N White; M Kearney, C Clarke; A Muldowney, J Heenan, E McKeon. Reps: J Harris-Wright, D Buckley, R Ah You, M Swift, J Muldoon, F Murphy, C Ronaldson, G Duffy.

REF -- L Hodges.

Irish Independent

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