Connacht Rugby has added experienced lock Lewis Stephenson to this season's line-up as they bid to retain the Pro 12 title won in May for the first time.
The former Ulster second row joined the squad this week ahead of their training camp and pre-season game against Montpellier in France, linking with fellow locks Quinn Roux, Andrew Browne, Ultan Dillane, Ben Marshall and Danny Qualter.
The 32-year-old from Co Antrim joins from Exeter Chiefs, having also played with Harlequins in the English Premiership. A product of the Ulster Academy, Stevenson returned to his home province in 2011, making 89 appearances over five seasons during which time he was capped for both the Ireland Wolfhounds and Emerging Ireland.
With the popular Aly Muldowney having joined Grenoble, Lam will value the experience Stephenson brings.
"It's great to have someone of Lewis' experience joining our squad," Lam says. "Having played in the premiership, as well as the Pro 12, he will bring something different and greatly boost our second row options."
Lam says with the internationals coming in later to pre-season and other injuries to Academy players, Stephenson is ready to train and play with the squad in France.
Lam has included six Academy players in the travelling squad along with new signings recruits Eoin Griffin, Cian Kelleher, Conor Carey, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Josh Rowland and Stevenson, and the young Ukrainian-born prop Ivan Soroka from Clontarf RFC who has been training with Connacht on a trial basis.
Lam says this pre-season trip to France has now become an important part of the squad's preparations.
"This week is hugely beneficial in terms of strengthening relationships on and off the field," he says. "Against Montpellier, who will be a good bit ahead of us in terms of their pre-season preparations, we have a chance to test out some new systems as well as take stock of where we are ourselves. It's a good time to blood our new players and try out different combinations ahead of round 1 of the Guinness PRO12 against Glasgow in just over three weeks' time."
Lam says the travelling internationals will not play against Montpellier on Thursday night, but it is "crucial for them to continue their reintegration to pre-season and prepare as best they can with the squad".
Connacht travelling squad: Backs (18 )" Cormac Brennan (A ), Cian Kelleher, Tiernan O'Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun, Matt Healy, Ed O'Keeffe (A ), Danie Poolman, Josh Rowland, Bundee Aki, Eoin Griffin, Rory Parata, Peter Robb, Jack Carty, Shane O'Leary, Caolin Blade, Kieran Marmion, Conor McKeon (A ), Conor Lowndes (A ).
Forwards (21 ): Dave Heffernan, Shane Delahunt, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Denis Buckley, Conor Carey, JP Cooney, Ronan Loughney, Saba Meunargia (A ), Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Ivan Soroka, JP Cooney, Sean O'Brien, Ultan Dillane, Danny Qualter, Cian Romaine (A ), Lewis Stevenson, Nepia Fox-Matamua, Jake Heenan, Eoin McKeon, John Muldoon.