Pragmatic Pat Lam adjusts as depleted Connacht brace for Newcastle Falcons battle

Connacht Rugby will take on Newcastle Falcons in this evening’s third round European fixture at the Galway Sportsground (kick-off 7.45pm) with wholesale changes to the starting line-up.
Pragmatic Pat Lam adjusts as depleted Connacht brace for Newcastle Falcons battle

Injuries have forced Pat Lam’s selection hand, with a number of academy players named in the side, including a first senior start for Galwegians’ Sean O’Brien in the back row.

In all there are 10 changes from last week, necessitated by 21 injuries to the current European squad, including captain John Muldoon, and key centre Bundee Aki, who has played every game this season.

In the absence of scrum-halves Kieran Marmion and John Cooney, Caolin Blade makes his first start this season, while Ian Porter is named on the bench having passed a late fitness test yesterday.

There is a new centre partnership, with Rory Parata joining fellow Academy player, 21-year-old Peter Robb, who made his senior debut in the European competition in Siberia.

Jack Carty starts at out-half, with Niyi Adeolokun and Matt Healy on the wings, while Tiernan O’Halloran will captain the side from fullback.

In the forwards, academy openside James Connolly and lock Ali Muldowney, who partners Ultan Dillane, remain from last week’s starting line-up, while Finlay Bealham, the only Connacht player to have featured in every game this season, joins Jason Harris-Wright and Ireland international Nathan White in a new front row. George Naoupu will provide the experience in a youthful back row.

The injuries have also affected the bench where hooker Dave Heffernan provides the back-row cover.

Danie Poolman and Shane O’Leary, having returned from injury, are also included.

The deepening injury crisis is not ideal as Connacht look to preserve their lead of the Challenge Cup pool one, but coach Pat Lam says it is “simply another test for us to meet head on”.

“We can’t dwell on it, it is what it is. The damage done is the amount of experience and quality [lost], but that is the reality of rugby and we just adjust.”

Lam believes his old club’s form in the Premiership is no reflection of their talent, and with some wily campaigners up front, including captain Richard Mayhew, and former international hard men Scott Lawson, Ally Hogg, Mouritz Botha and Tongan Taione Vea, he is expecting another tough fight.

“They are a physical, strong mauling side, so it’s just going to be another physical battle, back to back, “ he said.

“However we have a clear idea of what we need to do. Despite all the changes, if we work together as a team and stick to our structures, we’ll increase our chances of getting the job done.”

Falcons coach Dean Richards has brought in several youngsters for this trip to Galway, but they boast experienced personnel in key areas, including Tongan international Tane Takulua who makes his first start for the club since returning from Rugby World Cup duty.

The sides have met on three occasions in this tournament with the home side prevailing on each occasion.

There is certainly no shortage of talent in this youthful Connacht side, but the lack of experience and preparation could make it that much more difficult to maintain this season’s unbeaten home record.

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