High-flying Connacht happy to stay grounded

Connacht are thankful to be back on home soil for this evening’s European second round fixture against Brive in the Galway Sportsground (5pm) after a marathon trek from Siberia.
High-flying Connacht happy to stay grounded

The three-day delay after overcoming Russian newcomers STMenisei 31-14 in Krasnoyarsk last Saturday has affected Connacht’s preparations, but coach Pat Lam says the attitude has remained “upbeat and positive”.

With several players left at home, and others recovering from injuries, Lam has brought in fresh legs with 13 changes.

Only Bundee Aki and Rory Pararta, who played in the Challenge Cup opening round, are named in the starting line-up, while outhalf Jack Carty, who was an unused replacement last weekend, is named at outhalf.

With five changes in the backs, Tiernan O’Halloran has recovered from concussion protocols to slot in to fullback, and the captaincy, in the absence of the rested John Muldoon, while Robbie Henshaw returns to the centre, outside the ever-present Bundee Aki. Danie Poolman is named on the left wing, with Kieran Marmion back at scrumhalf.

It is all change up front, with Ronan Loughney the only survivor from the Enisei game in which he was a second-half replacement. However it is the first game this season for hooker Jason Harris-Wright, who joins Ireland international Nathan White, making his 50th appearance, in the front row.

Lock Ben Marshall is another returnee from injury, joining Andrew Browne in the second row, while in the back row Eoghan Masterson starts on the blindside, joining Player of the Month for October, Nepia Fox-Matamua, and Eoin McKeon at No 8.

Lam explained: “We had later starts this week and trained into the evenings to allow the guys coming back from Russia to recover as much as possible. There is huge competition for places in this squad.

“We knew before the trip to Russia we would need guys to double up for rounds one and two. We were prepared for that, but not for waht transpired. However we can’t control these things, and I am impressed with the way management and players have fronted up to get ready for this game as best we can.” Lam knows Connacht’s home record is on the line, particularly against a team they have never beaten.

The French outfit were winners home and away over Connacht in the 2008 season (15-22, 15-9) — also in the same pool were Newcastle, who qualified for the quarter-finals.

While they grabbed a valuable 13-9 win over Newcastle in the opening round, their away record is poor. Currently fifth in the French championship, Brive, with six changes from last weekend, are strong up front, and are expected to pose some problems for Connacht . However Pat Lam’s squad is in confident form this season, undefeated in the last six matches, and they will be at their best to ensure their unbeaten home record continues this season.

“We are really proud of our home record this season,” says Lam, ” and we are looking forward to being back in front of our home supporters in the warmth of Galway tomorrow.”

CONNACHT:

T O’Halloran (cpt), R Parata, R Henshaw, B Aki, D Poolman, J Carty, K Marmion, R Loughney, J Harris-Wright, N White, B Marshall, A Browne, E Materson, N Fox-Matamua, E McKeon.

Replacements:

D Heffernan, C O’Donnell, F Bealham, D Qualter, G Naoupu, I Porter, C Ronaldson, N Adeolokun.

BRIVE:

R Sola, E Radikedike, B Petre, C Tuatara, B Masilevu, M Ugalde, JB Pejoine (cpt), D Lavergne, T Acquier, Kk Buys, J Snyman, W Steenkamp, H Briatte, P Luafutu, W Whetton.

Replacements:

G Ribes, G Shvelidze, G Jgenti, V Lebas, S Hireche, T Iribaren, A Mafi, S Galala.

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