The level of conversation between players after matches is minimal at the best of times and even less so in these December double dates, but a snippet of information picked up by Connacht after Sunday’s 32-17 loss to Wasps has been thrown about the changing room in the Sportsground quite a bit this week.
Bundee Aki was one of the Connacht players to discover that Wasps are bringing their entire squad to Galway for their Christmas party tonight.
Connacht have enough incentive to win this return match, having been turned over 32-17 on Sunday at the Ricoh Arena, but Aki told an audience at a charity event on Thursday night that Wasps bringing a squad of 43 to party the night away in Galway just added another layer of determination among Pat Lam’s men.
“I hate losing, I get really angry but after the game on Sunday I just shook hands with the Wasps boys and a few of the mates I know said they were 43 of them coming over for the Christmas party,” said the PRO12 player of the season.
Connacht have every intention of ruining those festive celebrations by the English side in Galway, although coach Pat Lam admits he expects Wasps to be more clinical than Sunday.
That, of course, means his men need to produce something special at a packed Sportsground, but he is confident his injury-ravaged squad can do that.
Connacht are second in the pool after that loss in Coventry where they scored two tries through Kieran Marmion and Rory Parata, and with a home tie against Zebre and a trip to a Toulouse side who could be out of contention by the final round, Lam knows that a loss today would not be fatal.
“It’s not must win, otherwise you’re out. Win one of these games we have got a great chance, that’s what I always said. We are right in there.”
Parata comes in as one of four changes from the side which started last weekend, while Fijian Naulia Dawai could make his Connacht debut off the bench.
But Connacht have been hit hard by injuries as they look to qualify from the pool stages of Europe’s top tier for the first time in their history.
And Lam, who has only nine fit backs available for the clash, knows that things don’t get any easier from here as Wasps look to copperfasten their lead at the top of the pool.
“They have got a strong squad. There is a lot of depth and quality in their squad too,” said Lam.
“There is no doubt that they are going to be better. They know the challenge when they come over here; the crowd and the Sportsground, so they will prepare well and they are on a high because they won.” There are two changes to the Connacht backline where Parata comes in for the injured Stacey Ili.
Former Leinster winger Cian Kelleher is also injured and he is replaced by Matt Healy, who was capped during the summer tour to South Africa.
There are two further changes up front where Conor Carey is on the replacements bench with Ireland tighthead Finlay Bealham starting as Lam aims to get on top from the start.
Blindside flanker Eoin McKeon comes in for the injured Jake Heenan in the remaining change, and Nepia Fox-Matamua swaps to openside.
Wasps director of rugby Dai Young has made three changes to his team and brought in England scrum-half Joe Simpson, former Leinster centre Brendan Macken and tighthead Jake Cooper-Woolley.
There are eight internationals in the Wasps starting 15 with 66-time capped Wallaby Kurtley Beale likely to be their biggest threat. He starts from centre as he did when he scored a try on his debut last week.
There are also six England internationals in the starting line-up – Nathan Hughes, Joe Launchbury, Matt Mullan, Tommy Taylor, Joe Simpson and Christian Wade.
And Wasps have also got massive depth on their replacements bench where there are three internationals with Moore, Alapati Leiua and Frank Halai are held in reserve.
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