Connacht welcome squad boost ahead of Scarlets contest

Connacht have been boosted ahead of their visit to Wales on Saturday for a crunch clash with a Scarlets side also desperate for points.

Ireland lock Quinn Roux is available following a hip injury, while openside flanker Jake Heenan has recovered from hand surgery after Connacht's pre-season fixture against Montpellier.

It is timely improvement for Pat Lam's injury-struck squad as they go in search of their first points after last weekend's third round fixture against Zebre was abandoned at half time due to a lightning storm.

And with Scarlets also without points after their three opening fixtures, the game has added bite.

"We are both sitting on zero, and we have the big challenge of having never won at the ground, Parc y Scarlets," says coach Pat Lam.

"You know their internationals and the quality of their players, and that is the challenge we face. We are both in a desperate situation where we both want the points, so certainly it's a big game and more of a challenge because we have not won down there."

The rerun of Roux will add extra competition for Connacht's second row after Andrew Browne returned from a hamstring to play the opening half in Parma.

"It's a good boost," says Lam. "The big thing about our selection is the fear of missing out on the team when you have competition, and that's the problem with injuries. So now we have Quinn Roux, Ultan Dillane, Andrew Browne, Lewis Stephensen, Danny Qualter, and that completely changes what we had, and we need that right throughout the squad.

"Some positions we are really strong and that is what you want with your squad. Hopefully over the next four or five weeks it's only going to get better without losing any more. Unfortunately we lost props Dominic Robertson McCoy and Ivan Soroka [arm and foot injuries respectively], but it is an area we were strong in."

Lam says there's also a new look to his back three with Tiernan O'Halloran, Matt Healy, Niyi Adeolokun, Cian Kelleher, and Cormac Brennan vying for positions, in addition to new recruit Stacey Lli, who was talent spotted by Bundee Aki.

"We knew there was a position for a utility back because of Robbie [Henshaw] moving on and some injuries, so when Bundee went down for a holiday, I told him to keep an eye out, and he came back and said, 'You want to look at this guy'.

"I didn't really know Stacey at all, but he played in Auckland in the club rugby, the sevens, and was also on the fringes of the Auckland team. We had a look at some footage, but more importantly he was available now, and he can play in a few positions.

"He has the ability and skills we are looking for and he's pretty electric on attack. He provides our squad with more depth, but he has to get up to the Connacht way pretty fast and we are trying to accelerate that time."

This week's focus is once again on execution after turnovers cost Connacht three tries in the abandoned fixture in Parma.

"It's different mistakes and different people. We were making mistakes last year too and every game people make mistakes. The No 1 thing is there is only one place you can fix it and that is the work you do during the week and I am confident it will come.

"Performance leads to the points, and I still strive for the perfect performance, but at the end of the day you would always go with getting the points even if you haven't played well," Lam says.

Get out of jail

Connacht would certainly take any points on offer against a Scarlets outfit which has also underachieved this season.

"Without a doubt they could have beaten Ulster. They've had chances in all their games, but the are similar to us - some really good stuff and then things they will be working on. For us, it's about nailing our jobs, and if we get that right, it increases the chance of winning.

"The forecast doesn't look great down there and they have a big pack, and experienced international halfbacks, so that is the challenge and that is why it has been difficult going down there."

Weather certainly played its part last weekend in Parma when a lightning and thunder storm called a halt to proceedings - the second time on their Italian travels that Connacht's Pro 12 campaign has fallen foul of the weather after a waterlogged pitch in Treviso in 2013 forced a postponement.

Connacht were facing an uphill battle after three Zebre tries, all scored from turnover ball and defensive errors, and at half time they were behind 22-10 before referee Ian Davies was forced to abandon.

While the Italians may feel it was a get-out-of-jail-card for the champions, Lam is confident the second half would have been a different story.

"Rugby is an 80 minute game. We made a couple of errors, but I was still confident we would come back. Unfortunately, through no fault of ours or Zebre, the game got called off, and we can't control that.

"We scored a great try through Tiernan [O'Halloran] straight off the training park, and that's what we aim for. I am confident we would have produced a better performance in the second half."

Captain John Muldoon put his hand up for helping to concede one of those three tries, which were scored by centre Tommaso Boni, and backrow players Maxime Mbanda and Jacopo Sarto.

"A combination of everyone making small mistakes is costings us. It was me this week - I got a bit too wide and left too much of a hole. Sometimes you can make a mistake and someone covers your back, but unfortunately we keep making them and getting punished really hard. If you miss a tackle and they get in behind you, then it's back foot, and they scored three tries from three attacks, so that is disappointing.

Muldoon said safety was the priority.

"Zebre might feel let down by this act of God, but you have to look after people. With the amount of lightning, you just could not go out on a pitch like that.

"We are now looking forward to Scarlets. They are a bit like us, playing good stuff and getting punished. There are a lot of good teams in this league, and it just shows how good we were last year and how finely tuned we were, but we are not going to panic. We are getting better every game, we're highlighting things to fix, and we will continue to improve."

Scoring sequence: 7 mins T Boni try 5-0;14 mins, 14 mins T O'Halloran try, Carty conversion 5-7; 16 mins M Mbanda try, Canna conversion 12-7; 22 mins Carty penalty 12-10; 29 mins Sarto try, Canna conversion 19-10; 40 mins; 40 mins, Padovani penalty 22-10.

Zebre Rugby: E Padovani, G Di Giulio, G Bisegni, T Boni, G Venditti, C Canna, G Palazzani, F Ruzza, J Sarto, M Mbanda, G Biagi (cpt ), Q Geldenhuys, P Ceccarelli, O Fabiani, A De Marchi.Replacements, T D'Apice, B Postiglioni, G Roan, G Koegelenberg, D Minnie, C Englebrecht, T Castello, M Pratichetti.

Connacht Rugby: T O'Halloran, N Adeolokun, B Aki, E Griffin, C Kelleher, J Carty, C Blade, D Buckley, T McCartney, JP Cooney, L Stevenson, A Browne, E McKeon, J Connolly, J Muldoon (cpt ). Replacements, D Heffernan, R Loughney, C Carey, U Dillane, R Maloney, K Marmion, S O'Leary, M Healy.

Referee: Ian Davies (WFU ).


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