‘Connacht need to step it up’ to celebrate Muldoon milestone with a win

Leading from  the front: Connacht captain John Muldoon hits the 300 Pro 12 and European appearances for Connacht on Saturday, making him the highest Pro 12 player for both caps and minutes played.

Leading from the front: Connacht captain John Muldoon hits the 300 Pro 12 and European appearances for Connacht on Saturday, making him the highest Pro 12 player for both caps and minutes played.

Long-serving Connacht forward John Muldoon will make his 300th appearance on Saturday evening against Leinster at the Sportsground.

At 34 years of age and in his 14th season, having made his debut off the bench against the Borders in 2003, Muldoon's leadership and longevity have ensured his place in the record books.

"It's remarkable what he has done," says Connacht coach Pat Lam. "I don't think too many people will be able to do this again. To play in the position he does is not easy physically, and it's a real credit to him."

The only player to have reached this milestone in the Pro 12, Muldoon has been an ever-present figure for Connacht, having joined Michael Swift in the 200 club in 2013. But Muldoon says Saturday's derby with Leinster is just another game for himself and Connacht as they try to build on last weekend's 19-22 win over Edinburgh, which ensured a Champions Cup play-off this season.

"It's a derby, Leinster coming to town, and I've played in a good few before and I will treat it the same as any other derby game at home. We have a lot to do to step up and try to beat them.

"It's an opportunity for lads and the end-of-season tour, and the fact that we have a lot of players who would have grown up playing with and against their players adds a little spice to it. We all know there is rivalry, and it just adds that extra bit to it, you can see that in the scramble for tickets, it's all sold out and even the fans know it is a big one.

"We know with a couple of results we could have been higher up and we are disappointed with the outcome of a couple of games, but there is still a lot ot play for. We want to finish as high up as we can."

Yet again Connacht have been hit by injuries to key personnel. Hooker Tom McCartney and wing Stacey Ili are both undergoing ankle surgery this week. It will see them sidelined for the remainder of the season, as is prop Ronan Loughney following surgery on his arm. Fellow prop JP Cooney is also doubtful with a minor shoulder injury, while both flanker James Connolly and Darragh Leader have returned to training.

Leinster arrive in superb form, and Lam says it does not matter which team Leo Cullen selects, it will be full of experience and quality.

"Leinster have pretty much two international teams. All the guys coming through are the best of the best of the schools and academy system, but they are finally getting opportunities which is great for Irish rugby

"In my time here, we've always played them full strength or filled with guys who have experience - one international replaces another international. They are in a good place as a squad, they've got Champions Cup, they are going well and the squad is humming."

Although Connacht are in a different place than they were last year, Lam says its "all history".

"We've been here before and played them in this situation before - to me it's all history. It's all about the game itself and what you have in front of you and how you prepare so it's no different to last year whether it was the final, here or the RDS. Everything is about how well we prepare this week, that is all that counts.

"We are playing the No 1 team so no doubt we have to play better, but we know we can be better. What I like about our game and it still gives me belief is that we are creating oppotunities, it's whether we are able to take them."

Connacht, having only reached last year's form in sporadic patches, will certainly have up their level of intensity in defence and at at the breakdown, and the forwards will be charged with putting their side on the front foot to provide quick ball and space for their backs. They will not lack motivation. A sell-out at the Sportsground should certainly add to the atmosphere, and a win would be the perfect form of appreciation for Muldoon's continuing leadership after 14 seasons.

While last week's win over Edinburgh was important in securing a play-off for Champions Cup next season, a poor second-half display almost looked costly.

"First and foremost getting the win was important," says Lam. "It's been a tough four weeks and I've seen the work the players do. They train hard and work hard, and there is no doubt the three outcomes were not what we were after, but like a lot of games it could have been one way or the other. So we've parked it aside, it's given us clarity of where we sit, and regardless of where we go now, we have secured a play-off spot. It's now how far we can climb in the next three games and what a great opportunity to play the three of the top four teams."

Connacht looked well clear at half time in Myreside last Friday, leading 16-0 courtesy of an Eoin McKeon try and 11 points from outhalf Steve Crosbie. Edinburgh had not helped themselves with outhalf Duncan Weir missing several penalties and their indiscipline and mounting mistakes proving costly, but Connacht started to play with greater confidence after Kieran Marmion, with a pop pass, found McKeon on the burst to bag the try after 29 minutes.

Two more penalties after the break had Lam's side leading 22-0 after 50 minutes. Inexplicably Edinburgh then took control , scoring three tries in 10 minutes to ensure a nervy final 10 minutes. Connacht v Edinburgh: T O’Halloran; N Adeolokun (J Rowland 72 ), E Griffin, B Aki, D Poolman; S Crosbie (J Carty 62 ), K Marmion (C Blade 60 ); D Buckley (JP Cooney 62 ), T McCartney (S Delahunt 50 ), D Robertson-McCoy (F Bealham 45 ), Q Roux (J Cannon 63 ), A Browne, E McKeon, J Heenan, J Muldoon (N Dalwii 62 ). .

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