Pat Lam warns automatic cup qualification a must for Connacht

Connacht coach Pat Lam says automatic qualification for the Champions Cup is the minimum his side must achieve this season. The PRO12 holders are a lowly eighth as they travel to take on Ospreys in Liberty Stadium this afternoon.
Pat Lam warns automatic cup qualification a must for Connacht

The top six teams in the PRO12 automatically qualify for Champions Cup rugby next season, while seventh and eighth enter play-offs with English and French opposition, with just one spot up for grabs. Unbeaten at the Liberty all season, Ospreys are on form in Swansea, while Connacht have 21 players injured or unavailable. Ospreys are second and hammered Connacht 32-11 at the Sportsground in Round 2. Connacht also lost at home last weekend against Munster and Lam has made three changes with big No 8 Naulia Dawai set for his first start.

“The reason we want top six, is we want to be in the Champions Cup every year, that’s the minimum goal,” said Lam. “The PRO12 has gotten stronger and stronger, and anyone can beat anyone on their day. There is a lot of rugby still to play and we will see where we are. To me, there is no point in getting frustrated (about the amount of players we have available), it is all in the mindset.”

There is just one change in the back-line where Ireland’s Kieran Marmion is finally given his rest after his exploits over the Christmas. In his place comes John Cooney, who has shaken off the effects of a thigh injury in time to make his third PRO12 appearance this season.

Up front there are two changes with Sean O’Brien, brought in at blindside flanker, while captain John Muldoon misses out with a hamstring injury and Fijian Dawai will hope to add to his reputation after he dotted down the winning try against Wasps in the Champions Cup.

Eoin McKeon is also in line to make his 100th appearance as a replacement, but Connacht will be up against it, especially with so many players out and against an in-form Ospreys side.

“Ospreys have all their guys humming. Everyone is just trying to get points before we go to Champions Cup and they go to Challenge Cup. This is probably the last fixture they have before their players head off to Six Nations. So full strength, at home, they are trying to get maximum points,” said Lam.

Ospreys:

D Evans; D Howells, A Beck, J Matavesi, H Dirksen; S Davies, T Habberfield; N Smith, S Parry, M Fia; L Ashley, A W Jones; O Cracknell, J Tipuric, D Baker.

Replacements:

S Baldwin, P James, R Jones, A Beard, S Underhill, B Leonard, D Biggar, K Fonotia.

Connacht:

T O’Halloran; N Adeolokun, R Parata, P Robb, M Healy; J Carty, J Cooney; D Buckley, T McCartney, F Bealham; Q Roux, J Cannon; S O’Brien; J Heenan, N Dawai.

Replacements:

D Heffernan, JP Cooney, J Andress, L Stevenson, E McKeon, C Blade, D Poolman, C Gaffney.

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