Injury-hit Connacht prepare to fight Falcons to maintain top spot in European pool

Bouncing back: Bundee Aki, will be looking to lead Connacht back to winning ways against the Falcons. Photo: Sportsfile

Bouncing back: Bundee Aki, will be looking to lead Connacht back to winning ways against the Falcons. Photo: Sportsfile

Connacht face a fresh injury crisis this week as they return to the Sportsground to take on visitors Newcastle in this evening's European fixture (7.05pm ). In this first of the back-to-back pre-Christmas fixtures, coach Pat Lam has been left with just 23 players of his European squad fit after last weekend's bonus-point loss to Cardiff in the Pro 12.

The backs have been the worst hit - with just 10 expected fit for tomorrow's clash, including Shane O'Leary who has been added to the European squad with long-term injured Nepia Fox Matamua being deregistered.

Craig Ronaldson and Kieran Marmion remain doubtful after suffering concussion last weekend, while Bundee Aki and Ian Porter are recovering from ankle injuries.

Earlier in the week, fit and ready to go were: Tiernan O'Halloran, Matt Healy, Rory Parata, Peter Robb, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade, Niyi Adeolokun and Danie Poolman, who returned to training this week after a hamstring injury.

In the pack No 8 Eoin McKeon is likely to be out for up to a month with a torn elbow ligament, having just returned from a spell on the sidelines, and similarly Quinn Roux, having returned from nose surgery, could now be out for two months with a high ankle rupture. Ben Marshall, having refractured his arm, is sidelined for another three months.

"It's lengthy - the injury list- but we just have to try to deal with it," says Lam.

However the biggest effect of the injuries is the affect on Connacht's preparations, exacerbated by both John Muldoon (calf ) and Ronan Loughney (back ) being rested earlier in the week. One piece of good news is Andrew Browne's return to training following hand surgery.

Thus with stretched resources Connacht seek to preserve their home record against the Falcons and continue their lead in pool one of the Challenge Cup. And Lam knows Newcastle's form in the premiership is no reflection of their talent.

"Although they are near the bottom of the table, if you have a look at some of their games, there have been close losses. They have quality players there, they are physical, strong mauling, so it's just going to be another physical battle, back to back.

"We have a clear idea of what we need to do. It's just trying to get as much quality into our training this week as we can with the small numbers on the pitch.

"The bigger impact is that although some guys might make it back, everything we have done this season is on the back of training, and if we don't have guys available to train, it has a big impact on our preparations."

It has necessitated another readjustment in Lam's squad management, particularly with a six-day turnaround following next week's return fixture and a St Stephen's day meeting with Ulster in the Pro 12.

"We can't dwell on it, it is what it is. Just look at that list [of injuries]. The damage done is the amount of experience and quality [lost], but that is the reality of rugby and we just adjust, try to get the most of the group this week in training, and it is a mental process. Othr guys have stepped up and now other guys will get an opportunity."

Having lost to Cardiff last weekend, Connacht will be keen to return to winning ways as quickly as possible. The injuries against Cardiff affected Connacht's second half, but they still came within a score of winning. However, the defeat, the first in nine matches in both competitions, allowed the Scarlets to leapfrog Connacht into pole position on the Pro 12 table.

Bouncing back: Bundee Aki, will be looking to lead Connacht back to winning ways against the Falcons. Photo: Sportsfile

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