Chiefs' captain Clarke likely to be sprung against Newcastle
Connacht’s new Super 15 winning captain Craig Clarke is set to line out for the province on Saturday after arriving in Galway last week.
By Linley Mackenzie
Connacht's Super-15 winning captain, Craig Clarke, is expected to make his debut for the province this weekend against Newcastle Falcons.
Having only arrived in Ireland a week ago, Clark has wasted no time getting involved in training, and coach Pat Lam says he will be available for selection for this third and final pre-season fixture at Kingsto Park on Saturday (5pm).
"He's keen and he's available. He was not supposed to start until next week, but pretty much the first day he came down he was ready to go.
"I think it's a case of him letting the boys see he is keen to be here, which is great - to see the leader he is and the type of person he is," says Lam.
The former Chief lock, who co-captained the Super 15 side to back-to-back titles is likely to line out against fellow Waikato Nathan White, who captained the side last year in the absence of the injured Gavin Duffy. Duffy is again out of action having fractured a cheek bone in training and he could be out for a month depending on specialist advice this week. It is an unfortunate injury for the Ballina-born player who had been in super form at training and, with Robbie Henshaw also unavailable this weekend due to his Ireland management programme, and James So'oialo still in New Zealand awaiting a permit, Lam is looking at various options for the fullback position. Last weekend against Wasps Tiernan O'Halloran took over the No 15 jersey, while this week Fionn Carr has been training in the position, and he could be given the chance against Newcastle. Danie Poolman, who is is recovering from a hamstring, was regarded yesterday as 50:50 to take his place on the tour party, while Michael Swift survived a full training earlier in the week and is hopeful of being included.
With David McSharry and Kyle Tonetti also still out, Lam could well look to another youngster Conor Finn to join Eoin Griffin in the centre, while Dan Parks is expected to return to action for this final pre-season friendly.
Lam is expecting a step up from last weekend's loss to Wasps as he moves closer to selecting his starting line-up, having involved all his academy and development players over the last two weekends.
"The beauty of last week's game was to see what we can do and what we need to do better. That is what pre season is about, finding out where everyone is at, give everyone an opportunity, and we got some good answers," says Lam.
Wasps scored four tries against Connacht in last Saturday's 31-7 victory at the Sportsground, and Lam will be looking for an improved defensive display.
"Defence comes back to systems and is the key one. Credit Wasps, they are a good side, but you have to tackle them low or knock them back and we didn't do either a lot of times and that put us under pressure,but that can be easily fixed as we go through."
After Eoin Griffin was rewarded with his side's only try from a blockdown close to the Wasps line following a good spell of sustained period, scores from the visitors both sides of the break put Connacht under pressure.
"Into the wind there was some really good rugby, but just before half time and after Wasps scored at that crucial time and the game was a struggle then on. "
Lam had selected an experimental side, involving some 40 players - with two different teams in each half and 10 replacements.
The new coach says the two friendlies served their purpose in giving his squad members game time.
"The key was to give everyone a chance to show us coaches what they can do. We played some great stuff in France, some things were good at times against Wasps, but we wanted to see them under pressure and see how they react. It was more important to find out now that in a game that matters with four points at stake."
Most of those youngsters will be playing with Nigel Carolan's Eagles in Connacht's second season in the B & I Cup, but Lam believes some are ready to be given an opportunity in the RaboDirect.
"Some guys struggled, some of them are not far off, and I think some are ready - ready to have the opportunity, but everyone has a lot of development to do which is fine. We got some good answers today and now it about us building towards Zebre."
Connacht v Wasps: 1st half, T O'Halloran, F Carr, E Griffin B Murphy, M Healy, J Carty, F Murphy, B Wilkinson, S Henry, R Loughney, A Muldowney, A Browne (cpt)m J Muldoon, W Faloon, E McKeon. Second half, S Layden, T O'Halloran, R Parata, C Finn, S Macauley, C Ronaldson, P O'Donoghoe, JP Cooney, D Heffernan, R Ah You, A Muldowney, D Qualter, M Fifita, A Conneely, G Naoupu (cpt). Replacements, M Nikora, K Marmion, J Heenen, C Kindregan, J Harris-Wright, J Rael, P Reilly, M Walsh, D Park, T Leader.
London Wasps: T Bell, J Bassett, B Jacobs, C Hayter, T Varndell, A Goode, J Simpson, M Mullan, T Lindsay, J Cooper-Wooley, J Cannon, T Palmer, S Jones (cpt), G Thompson, E Jackson. Replacements, N Cochrane, S McIntyre, P Swainston, T Vea, R Pitman, C Davies, J Carlisle, M Everard, K Myall, A Masi, J Moates.
Referee: George Clancy