Mitch Lam played for the Connacht Eagles and Galwegians earlier this season but efforts to draft in the 23-year-old in the midst of a crippling spate of injuries to his backline were unsuccessful, even though it would not have cost Connacht money.
Connacht, with big South African signing Marnitz Boshoff out until March and Craig Ronaldson and Shane O’Leary not back yet after lengthy spells out, could now be heading to play Ospreys this weekend with replacement scrum-half Caolin Blade playing at out-half.
Lam is sweating on the availability of regular out-half Jack Carty — called into his first Irish squad this week — after he suffered a calf injury in national camp on Monday and is added to the growing list of players either out or doubtful for Saturday’s visit to Liberty Stadium.
And with over two dozen players injured or being rested, Lam has had insufficient numbers to train properly with backs coach Conor McPhillips, a 35-year-old former Connacht winger who retired in 2009, having to step in as an out-half in training moves.
“Last week we had a midfield back-line for the Munster attack, of (props) Dave Heffernan and Shane Delahunt who were running 12 and 13 last week.
“We had more forwards running out in the backs. We just needed to get some sort of thing but they don’t have the same finesse or intricacies of how to play the midfield. But that’s just making do with what you have and trying to adapt,” said Lam.
He said that bringing in someone new for three or four weeks’ cover wasn’t practical as it would take them that length of time to learn the calls, and that’s why he looked at drafting his son Mitch in as he had trained with the squad and was familiar with everything.
“It was just turned down by the IRFU because he is a foreigner. Mitch was going to cost nothing, he’s my son, so I wasn’t going to charge Connacht Rugby. We only needed somebody for three weeks.
“It’s a language the way we play. That was the whole purpose of asking Mitch to come up here because you have to know the plays so I was just preparing for this situation. But that’s fine. I think all of the provinces they have to go through the processes and ask the question.
“Straight away the answer was no. So we just train Caolin Blade, train Rory Parata, because at least they know the calls, Tiernan O’Halloran stepped in there and Danie Poolman has had to step in to 12.
“We could get a possible Irish 10 who is playing club rugby but he would still need the three-week window. We need somebody here and now, because for the last three weeks we have no O’Leary, Ronaldson, Boshoff.
“Hopefully, O’Leary is not too far away next week so that will help ease the situation. It’s only to cover for the three weeks,” added Lam.
The reigning champions will be without skipper John Muldoon, flanker Nepia Fox-Matmaua and Irish lock Ultan Dillane for the trip to Swansea, with Dillane now a major doubt for the start of the Six Nations with an ankle injury. The 23-year old, who has chalked up eight caps since his debut last season against England, faces up to six weeks out and that could be longer if he requires surgery.
“Minimum he is out five to six weeks. But the specialist will work out whether he can do the conservative. When you do a high-ankle sprain it’s either surgery to tighten it up or you do the conservative and just go for the rehab. So normally if it’s just the rehab it’s five to six weeks,” added Lam.
Irish internationals Finlay Bealham and Matt Healy are also doubts for this weekend with stomach bugs.