Sport Rugby

Saturday 25 November 2017

Westerners dealt Swift blow as Lam calls on heroes to 'step it up a level'

Michael Swift tackles Toulouse's scrum half Luke Burgess
Michael Swift tackles Toulouse's scrum half Luke Burgess

Brian McDonald

Connacht have suffered a 'big loss' ahead of Saturday's Heineken Cup rematch against Toulouse, with experienced lock Michael Swift ruled out with a fractured cheekbone.

It is a huge disappointment to Connacht's longest-serving player, who will miss one of the biggest day's in the province's history as the record four-time Heineken Cup winners come to Galway looking for revenge for Sunday's shock 16-14 loss in France.

Coach Pat Lam said that the loss of Swift (36) -- who recently became the first man to play 250 games for Connacht -- was a blow.

"He had a scan done and he has a fracture of his cheekbone and he's gone for at least four weeks, which is a big loss for us," said Lam.

Lam is relieved that everyone else came through Sunday's epic encounter unscathed, although there were a lot of 'bumps and bruises'. One of Lam's main tasks is to get players down from the high of the historic win and focused on Saturday evening's clash at what is expected to be a sold-out Sportsground, but he said it wasn't a difficult task.

"It's not too tough really, it's all about the opportunity that we've created for ourselves. I think the belief from last week is based on the work the boys have done off the field right through the season," he said.

"We know it's another step up this week and everyone is more excited by it, but we know it's not just going to happen again.

"There's a process of work that made it happen last week and we just need to go through that same process and step it up another level."

Lam's squad is boosted by the return from injury of lock Aly Muldowney and versatile back Tiernan O'Halloran.

"The biggest thing is the planning -- and getting real clarity from the review," said former Samoa star Lam.

"The priority is to tick boxes and have a full tank of gas come Saturday night -- that's the most important thing."

One player who can't wait for Saturday evening is 20-year-old Ireland international Robbie Henshaw -- who missed going to the corresponding game two years ago because he was doing his mock exams for his Leaving Cert.

He made his Heineken Cup debut last year just a few months after leaving school, and the full-back said Sunday was a day that he will never forget.

"It was amazing to have the support there," Henshaw said.

"It was probably the most physical game I've played in all year.

"The intensity was really high and I got a taste of what Toulouse are like and what they're going to bring this week.

"We just have to stand up and match that and come out as the Connacht team that we are and show a lot of heart."

Irish Independent

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