Ireland’s Robbie Henshaw will be back in the green of Connacht to help continue the province’s near perfect start to the Guinness Pro 12. The centre, who was rested last week, will line out for tomorrow’s visit of Treviso which is expected to be another physically demanding test.
Italian side Treviso take on Connacht at 7.30pm, and despite their lowly current position in the league table, Lam says it is a case of ‘take them for granted at your own peril’.
“If you don’t give them respect, you can get badly beaten,” he says. “We can’t do as much physical training because of the short week, but mentally we have to build ourselves up for a tough battle.”
After posting their fifth win from six outings last weekend against Edinburgh to remain in second place in the league, it is hard to see Connacht losing to Treviso, a side yet to post a victory this season. However Lam believes the Italian franchise is close to breaking that duck.
“I saw them against Leinster, and they were unlucky. They put Leinster under quite a bit of pressure, they just didn’t get points, and obviously Johnny Sexton showed his class for Leinster. Although they are bottom of the table, it’s never an easy game.”
Lam also remembers Connacht’s visit in 2013 when they came unstuck in Italy, losing by 23-3.
“I remember that game just turning and turning and we got badly beaten. Since then, we haven’t lost to an Italian team on the basis that we nail our basics first, win our own ball, get our go forward and put the pressure on, and our defence, too.”
Last year Connacht followed up a tense 9-6 win in Italy with a comprehensive 53-5 win at the Sportsground, and that is the result Lam will be looking to repeat.
“Last year we put 40 on them, but all of those tries came in the last 20 minutes and it was a dog fight until then. That’s what you have to prepare for mentally. If you are loose, if you don’t give them respect, you can get beaten, so that’s our focus this week.”
With next week’s impending visit to Russia for the first European fixture, Lam may well take the opportunity to change the starting line-up, while players will also be involved with the Eagles against Leinster A in Dublin today.
Ruled out of both matches is Quinn Roux who suffered a nose fracture against Edinburgh. He was due to see a surgeon this week. However good news is that Tiernan O’Halloran, who has a sore jaw, is available, while John Cooney and Shane Delahunt returned to training and are also available.
Not yet ready for action is hooker Jason Harris-Wright who, after nearly a year sidelined, is expected to play for the Eagles today, having come through 80 minutes for Clontarf last weekend. And prop Ronan Loughney is another front row player ready for selection, while Danie Poolman, who was due to return last weekend after a hamstring injury, will be monitored ahead of this week’s team selection.
After last weekend’s win over Edinburgh, Connacht continue to build momentum.
“It was a real pleasing result,” says Lam, “ particularly our defence, and even our attack. They surprised us last year by choking us and holding us up, but this was one of our best efforts in defence and in our collisions.”
The progress made over the last couple of seasons was again evident in the last few minutes when Connacht held out for their fifth win.
“The guys worked hard in defence, maintained their integrity, and it was a matter of time before we could get the turnover. The bench was also outstanding.
“It would have been the perfect start, but for the Glasgow game. It still hurts us, but the main thing is our home ground [record] is precious to us and we don’t want to lose it.
“We saw last year there’s such a long way to go. We know these games are crucial, and things change, but one more win in the Pro 12, and we stay minimum second, then go into Europe and then we come back to all the interpros, the colder weather, and we have to adjust.”
Although they led from start to finish, Connacht needed to put in huge defensive effort in the second half to see off Alan Solomon’s side which crashed to a second successive defeat after a run of four wins. Despite perfect weather, it was an error-ridden game marked by penalties, but a first-half training pitch try proved the difference.
Outhalf Jacky Carty opened the scoring after eight minutes with a straightforward penalty from 30 metres and within two minutes Connacht had struck again, Carty’s deft inside pass allowing Matt Healy to carve open the Scottish defence with fullback Tiernan O’Halloran crossing.
Edinburgh countered with a penalty in the 17th minute, while the visitors’ scrum provided a second to close the gap to 8-6 at the break. But in the battle of the breakdown, led by captain John Muldoon, Connacht secured a crucial penalty within minutes of the restart which Carty converted. Edinburgh wrested control for a period of the second half, and replied with a 53rd minute Hidalgo-Clyne three-pointer. However when the industrious Nepia Fox-Matamua forced a penalty at the breakdown two minutes later, Carty restored the five-point lead.
Such was the stop-start nature of this game, it was not until the 76th minute that Connacht had another opportunity to add to their tally. Although Carty’s two long efforts were just short, it was Connacht’s trojan work at the breakdown and a composed defence that proved decisive.
Connacht: T O’Halloran, D Leader, B Aki, C Ronaldson, M Healy, J Carty, K Marmion, D Buckley, T McCartney, R Ah You, A Muldowney, A Browne, J Muldoon (captain ), N Fox-Matamua, E Masterson. Replacements: N White for A You and Q Roux for Muldowney (47 ), E McKeon for Masterson (62 ), I Porter for Marmion (69 ), D Heffernan for McCartney, N Adeolokin for O’Halloran (71 ), F Bealham for Buckley (73 ), Q Roux for Muldowney (74 ).