History lesson puts chip on Connacht shoulders

This evening’s clash at the RDS will be Pat Lam’s 98th in charge of Connacht and it is safe to say that he still has little difficulty coming up with a cause for his men each time they go out.

History lesson puts chip on Connacht shoulders

The years and years without success prior to his arrival in the Sportsground in 2013 has meant there are umpteen frontiers to be crossed and this evening, Lam’s men will bid to win at the RDS for the first time in ten visits.

Bit by bit, Connacht have been reaching milestones and Lam likes his men to have a bit of a chip on their shoulder going into battle. And it will be a while yet before he runs out of motivating factors.

Connacht have defeated Leinster in eight of their 28 meetings. It’s the best record they have against the other Irish provinces but a 2002 success at Donnybrook, when Mark McHugh landed a last-gasp drop goal against his native province, remains their only win in 14 visits to the capital.

Last time out against Ulster, there was the need to achieve a win against the only side in the PRO12 that Lam had not defeated. This time, unsurprisingly, that losing run at the RDS has been highlighted.

It will not have gone unnoticed either that the 13-0 loss there last New Year’s Day remains the only occasion in 97 games that Connacht failed to score since Lam took the reins.

“I don’t think anyone expects us to win this one up there because history is against us. But we still go through the same role day to day,” said Lam.

“Every week we are tested, we are. But that’s why we are getting better because we understand the challenge. We set our goals — there is a bit of history — which we enjoy doing.

“But we go through our process of the work, of what do they bring, what do we need to do to stop it, and what can we bring to the party.”

It’s been a good week with Bundee Aki and Ultan Dillane committing their future to the province just a couple of days after they became only the third side in Europe to win both of their opening games in the Champions Cup.

Neither Aki nor Dillane start this evening, with the PRO12 player of the season being kept in reserve to give some impetus off the bench, while lock Dillane is unavailable due to international duty.

He is one of just three Connacht players included in the 34-man Irish squad announced this week, with Kieran Marmion starting today at scrum-half and prop Finlay Bealham on the bench.

The likes of Tiernan O’Halloran and Quinn Roux, capped during the summer in South Africa, will be keen to state their case this evening while this is the sort of occasion where Niyi Adeolokun can show the form which many believe should have seen him included in the national squad for the first time.

Lam has never been shy about introducing new talent and said he is thrilled with the manner his youngsters up front have fared without the injured Denis Buckley and Tom McCartney.

They will be tested this evening against a Leinster front row of Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, and Mike Ross, but Lam said it’s a challenge they will deal with.

“When you consider, we had Rodney Ah You and Nathan White as our main tightheads and Finlay Bealham was coming off the bench last year, and filling in from pretty much the start to the end of the season,” said Lam.

“And you have Shane Delahunt and Dave Heffernan, you have got JP Cooney and Conor Carey just coming in. So it is a group of really young forwards that are going to be getting better and better. And that’s pleasing for us because set-piece is crucial.”

They will need that pack to front up but if they deliver then Connacht will hope to have the firepower to get rid of another hoodoo.

Leinster:

I Nacewa; A Byrne, R O’Loughlin, N Reid, B Daly; J Carbery, J Gibson-Park; C Healy, S Cronin, M Ross; M Kearney, I Nagle; D Leavy, S O’Brien, J Conan.

Replacements:

J Tracy, P Dooley, M Bent, M McCarthy, J van der Flier, L McGrath, R Byrne, R Kearney.

Connacht:

T O’Halloran; N Adeolokun, P Robb, C Ronaldson, C Kelleher; J Carty, K Marmion; JP Cooney, D Heffernan, C Carey; Q Roux, A Browne; S O’Brien, J Heenan, J Muldoon.

Replacements:

S Delahunt, D Robertson-McCoy, F Bealham, J Cannon, E McKeon, C Blade, B Aki, S Ili.

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