Connacht prepare to lock horns with Scots

Pat Lam’s squad continues to break records in quest for Champions Cup rugby

Pat Lam is preparing his league-leading squad for a physically demanding encounter against fellow play-off hopefuls Edinburgh in Murrayfield tomorrow (7.35pm ).

After several seasons of playing second fiddle to Glasgow Warriors, Alan Solomen's Edinburgh are in position to make a serious play for the top. With nine wins, five losing bonus points, and one of the strongest defensive records in the Pro 12, Connacht know points will not be easily won.

"We have always found it tough there," says Lam. "There is consistency in the way Edinburgh play - they are very physical, very direct, and they are a settled team with a lot of players who have clocked up the games."

Edinburgh also boast a strong home record - their only home defeat this season was 14-16 to Munster last November - but Connacht are no strangers to Scotland's international stadium and its pitch, which Pat Lam says is a positive for his squad.

"When we go to Murrayfield we look at the surface, and the biggest thing is playing on a good surface so you can play your own game and control your game."

He is expecting a good battle up front, particularly at the set piece, knowing if Connacht do not match Edinburgh physically, it will "make for a long day".

Hopes were high that Connacht's latest debutant for Ireland, Ultan Dillane, would be able to join Nathan White, Kieran Marmion and Finlay Bealham for today's travel to the Scottish capital. However neither Dillane nor Robbie Henshaw will be joining the squad this weekend.

They would have been timely returns, with lock Ben Marshall, undergoing concussion protocols alongside scrumhalf Caolin Blade and winger Niyi Adeleokun, while scrumhalf John Cooney suffered a minor setback in training with his shoulder, but should be available for the Leinster fixture at the Sportsground.

However the good news is the return of captain John Muldoon who was a late withdrawal against Ospreys with hamstring tightness last weekend, while both Quinn Roux and No 8 Eoin McKeon have also returned to training.

Lam has also confirmed No 8 Eoghan Masterson is not expected to return until December after undergoing knee surgery to repair ligaments damaged in Connacht's victory over Zebre. Jack Carty, after two weeks recovering at home in Athlone after his spleen operation, has returned to the squad, although is not involved in training.

With six matches remaining in the Pro 12 and Connacht still at the top of the table, Lam says it is exciting times as they head to Edinburgh for Friday's next fixture.

"Every game, depending on where you are on the table, has some significance. It's a great time, the weather is getting better, we have two more weekends of Six Nations and then it's all guns blazing. I always look forward it and it just so happens we are in a better place than we have ever been."

A win would open up a 16 points difference, similar to Connacht's 30-22 victory over Ospreys last weekend.

In a high-octane fixture at the Sportsground Pat Lam's squad saw off the Ospreys with three tries, and closed out the game to deny the Welsh a bonus point. With 19 points from a possible 20 in the last four matches, Connacht extended their championship points to 54, surpassing last season's total of 50, and with 11 wins, they also exceeded their best of 10 with six fixtures remaining.

"Extremely proud," said Lam. "It was a step up in intensity against a quality Ospreys team. "We acknowledge what we have achieved. In some years 54 points would have good enough for sixth place, but now we need to get 58 or 59. To beat Ospreys down there and at home is a real achievement, but now we look at Edinburgh and the double over them."

Connacht held a17-15 lead at the break after the perfect start with two early converted tries from man of the match Bundee Aki and Aj MacGinty. Ospreys' influential outhalf Sam Davies struck a fourth-minute penalty in between, before Ben John grabbed their opening try, and No 8 Dan Baker powered over from another quickly-taken penalty, with Davies adding the extras.

Ronaldson edged the home side in front with a 27th minute penalty before converting Matt Healy's ninth league try on 51 minutes. However, dangerous Welsh scrumhalf Rhys Webb touched down and Davies' converted to cut the deficit to 24-22.

Ronaldson kept the scoring ticking over with another three-pointer before Connacht knuckled down to defend their lines, epitomised by a tackle from replacement Kieran Marmion, who stopped Davies in the corner - a controversial decision by the TMO ruling out the try. After stretching the lead to 30-22 in the 66th minute, Connacht continued to batten down the hatches.

Connacht: T O'Halloran, N Adeolokun, B Aki, C Ronaldson, M Healy, A MacGinty, C Blade, D Buckley, T McCartney (cpt ), R Ah You, B Marshall, A Muldowney, S O'Brien J Heenan, G Naoupu. Replacements, K Marmion for Blade (32 ), D Qualter for Marshall (HT ), F Bealham for Ah You (57 ), J Connolly for Naoupu and D Poolman for Adeolokun (62m ), R Loughney for Buckley (71 ), D Heffernan for McCartney (73 ), P Robb for Ronaldson (75m ).

•The Connacht Rugby Supporters' Club with hold its annual Clan table quiz on Thursday March 10 in The Dail Bar. With some great prizes to be won, the quiz will also raise money for the Galway Simon Community.

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