Munster threat based on ‘collective spirit’, says Pat Lam

It’s hard to believe the change in fortunes for these two sides since Munster made the trip to Galway last April and suffered a record 35-14 loss.

Connacht were on a roll at the time and backed up their maiden win at Thomond Park by securing a bonus-point win, which left them needing just a point from their remaining two matches to reach their first semi-final spot.

Munster, on the other hand, found themselves still outside Champions Cup qualification going into the final two rounds and were blown away by the eventual PRO12 champions, despite scoring the two opening tries at the Sportsground in that contest.

Fast forward eight months and Munster are flying high at the top of the PRO12 facing into three big Champions Cup games, while Connacht are floundering in eighth place, 14 points adrift of what they had accumulated after 10 matches last season.

Connacht are going for their third win in a row over Munster, but this is a fixture dominated by the Reds, who have won 23 of the 28 previous encounters, with one draw.

Connacht coach Pat Lam believes the sudden death of Anthony Foley is driving Munster forward this season and he is in no doubt about the task facing his understrength side at the Sportsground today.

“You look at what they have done, it has been phenomenal since Axel has passed away. They have channeled all of that into the way they do things.

“There are not too many thrills about their game, in the sense that they are aggressive, they maul well, they are very confrontational, and they play the percentage game and they do it well. They are the form team in the northern hemisphere at the moment which is for us, it’s a big challenge for us.”

Lam’s team, albeit with a game in hand away to Zebre, are 11 points adrift of Champions Cup qualification and can’t afford to lose further ground, but he knows they will need to produce something special to stop Munster’s march.

“I think they are all on the same page, there is a collective culture and spirit in that team at the moment. It is fantastic to see. That’s what’s making them dangerous. Whatever they are doing, you can see it in their body language. That’s stuff we pride ourselves on here. It’s a tough proposition.

“They have a really strong cause to play. Their motivation is high and it’s coming through in their body language in defence and attack. It is no doubt a happy camp, but it’s a great challenge. They are top of the table and deservedly so. It’s a big, big game for us.”

Lam’s selection has been restricted by injuries — and he has warned there could be further changes before kick-off — with Peter Robb coming into the centre to replace the injured Bundee Aki. There are three changes up front, where Denis Buckley is not just the only Connacht native in the pack, he is the only Irish-born player among the starting eight.

Tom McCartney, who covered the loosehead position off the bench in the loss away to Ulster, starts at hooker and captains the team, with skipper John Muldoon out through injury.

Naulia Dawai, the try-scoring hero over Wasps in the Champions Cup, makes his first start in place of Muldoon, while Jake Heenan returns from injury to start at openside flanker.

Former Munster prop John Andress has been named as a replacement, as he begins his short-term contract with Connacht just weeks after leaving Rassie Erasmus’s squad.


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