By Linley MacKenzie
John Muldoon, who is expected to win his 200th cap for Connacht when they face Cardiff in Arms Park on Friday evening, says the province’s new crop of youngsters are keeping him on his toes.
The Portumna native, one of three players Pat Lam has selected to captain the side, says it’s an honour to be in the 200 club.
“I am very proud I am from Connacht and it has been a tough place to be - we have had a lot of bad days - but at the moment I am just concentrating on getting selected. There are young players raring to go, everyone wants to play this Friday, and there is certainly a lot of competition here now,” the 30-years-old flanker says.
“I have been around a long time and had a good relations with both Eric [Elwood] and Brads [Michael Bradley], but when a new coach comes in, you have to knuckle down because he is going to give everyone a fair crack at the whip.”
Muldoon spent several months out of action after tearing a knee ligament playing for Ireland against Fiji in the Autumn Series, but believes he still has much to offer.
“ I had a disruptive year last year with injury and loss of form towards the end of the season, but I have drawn a line under that and come back refreshed. If I perform well, and more importantly if the team performs well, there are six or seven lads looking to get involved in Irish teams.”
Muldoon was capped for Connacht in 2004 against the Border Rievers and last season was his first win away to Cardiff - and Connacht’s first since 2001.
“Cardiff made a lot of changes over the summer. They had a tough game against Glasgow and they will be thinking ‘4G pitch let’s run the legs off Connacht’. On the other side we got a good win, we’re not entirely happy with the amount of errors, but hopefully we can put that right on Friday night.”
Lam will be without nine players, including Craig Clarke who is recovering from a calf injury, Denis Buckley (shoulder ), Eoin McKeon (ankle ), and Kyle Tonetti. Miah Nikora is due to see a specialist next week for a shoulder injury that could see him sidelined for several weeks, while Dave McSharry has returned to full training, but is not yet available. Fionn Carr, who also suffered a calf strain, is expected to make a full recovery for Friday’s match, while Gavin Duffy has recovered from a cheek injury. This could see Lam once again shuffle his side. Duffy can play on the wing, while Robbie Henshaw played in the centre throughout his school career.
Lam, happy to get last weekend’s opener out of the way, says Connacht now have to step it up again.
“We are away from home and Cardiff will be desperate to get their season going on their new pitch. I have come up against Welsh teams and, when they are passionate, they are tough. Cardiff are a huge team with quality players,” he says.
Lam says he was happy with several aspects of Connacht’s 25-16 win against Zebre, most notably the defence, set piece, and Connacht’s commitment. However, he says, Connacht need to apply their heart to their skill level and execution and cut out the basic errors.
The first of Connacht’s three tries came after four minutes - an opportunistic effort from alert prop Nathan White, who bounded down the left touchline after catching the Zebre defence napping. A solid forward platform laid the foundations, No 8 George Naoupu was an influential ball carrier, and Connacht's backline always looked threatening in attack, led by Man of the Match Robbie Henshaw. When the pack had Zebre on the back foot from a maul, left wing Matt Healy finished superbly after a skillful assist from Fionn Carr. Parks, having missed three first half efforts into the wind, added the conversion to put into a 15 - 3 lead at half time.
Connacht struggled after the restart, but good defence limited Zebre to two successful penalty kicks from their outhalf Luciano Orquera. A Parks' 62nd minute penalty provided some breathing space before Carr grabbed his first try since returning to the province in the 74th minute.