Connacht ready for Wasps, but not Lam's departure

Marnitz Boshoff making his Connacht debut against Benetton Treviso in action from round 10 of the Guinness Pro12 game at the Sportsground on Saturday. Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy

Marnitz Boshoff making his Connacht debut against Benetton Treviso in action from round 10 of the Guinness Pro12 game at the Sportsground on Saturday. Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy

It has been a dramatic week for Connacht. Amid the shock news that coach Pat Lam is departing at the end of the season for pastures new, Connacht must also try to concentrate their minds on the more immediate task of a significant European Champions Cup fixture in England.

Twice winners of this competition, Wasps have pedigree and form, and Connacht will find it another tricky challenge when they meet for the first time in the Ricoh Stadium in Coventry on Sunday (1pm ), before the return visit next weekend.

These two fixtures could well decide which team tops pool two of the competition, but this first one is crucial in gaining the pyschological advantage ahead of their return visit. While some English sides may have been tempted to take Connacht for granted in the past, Wasps' coach Dai Young is more than familiar with the Pro 12 as former director of coaching at Cardiff.

Both sides go into the match with some momentum - Connacht, after a shaky Pro 12 start, have won their last two encounters against Cardiff and Treviso, while Wasps have scalped Sale Sharks and Worcester in the Premiership.

As expected Wasps boast household names of pedigree, Kurtley Beale, James Haskell, Nathan Hughes, Jimmy Gopperth, Ashley Johnston, Brendan Macken, Joe Worsley, and of course their pivotal player Danny Cipriani, who must not be given any room to move. Cipriani missed last weekend's fixture against Worcester with a calf strain, but is expected to be fully fit.

Pat Lam also has selection issues - mostly positive - with the return of his internationals to the fold. However outhalf Marnitz Boschoff is unvailable having injured his shoulder last weekend and is due to be reviewed by a specialist this week. Scrumhalves Kieran Marmion and John Cooney will both be involved, while there is also keen competition in the back-row. Two players who will be monitored ahead of selection are Ronan Loughney and Matt Healy who were to return to full training this week.

"The really good thing is when I first came here Marmo was a fifty odd game consecutive run and that was a concern. Bringing John Cooney to improve that level but also to bring in Caolan Blade from the academy three years ago, we are now in a situation where I am comfortable starting and to have three quality nines to choose from, " says Lam.

"The way we play our game is core roles because effectively after the set-pieces start Tiernan looks like a seven and Jake Heenan looks like a full back, so it's just about knowing your job and having the skillset."

Connacht put themselves in confident form with a 47-8 victory over Treviso last weekend, ensuring they are "ready to go".

"When you look at the quality of guys still to come back in, it's exactly what I wanted," said Lam. "It's a step up and we are excited by it.

"Wasps are running hot in the premiership, but this is what we worked unbelievably hard for last year so we can play this sort of rugby. We can take a lot of confidence out of these two games.

"The weather looks good, the teams have attacking attitudes and its going to be a great game. We have an opportunity to go over there and play a team we don't play week in, week out and represent the Pro 12 as well as Connacht rugby. There has been a really good buzz. On Monday and Tuesday we have set the scene on what we are going to do. Everyone is really keen to give it a good crack. We are excited about it."

Lam impressed

Treviso put up little resistance but, having lost to the Italians last season, Lam was suitably impressed with the manner of the performance, particularly given the absence of a handful of key players still to come into the reckoning.

They had the bonus point wrapped up by half time to bag their fourth win in defence of the Pro 12 title, and the only disappointing aspect was the concession of a late try late from the scrum, and a yellow card to right wing Cian Kelleher for tackling his former Leinster teammate McKinley in the air.

In his first start former South African Lions outhalf Marnitz Boschoff, showed his prodigious line-kicking, but he now is doubtful having suffered a shoulder injury, forcing Connacht to finish with 14 players. The game also produced a new back row combination of Nepia Fox Matamua, fellow Kiwi Jake Heenan and captain John Muldoon, which "went really well".

"They are very clever rugby players. I have been waiting for a long time since I brought them here [Matamua and Heenan] to play them both together. It's great to see them out there, both fully fit, not only competing against each other, but also working together."

And with new recruit Fijian Nualia Dawai "looking the goods and learning the game" and Sean O'Brien back from injury, Lam is relishing the"selection headaches" in the back row.

Despite an early Italian penalty from McKinley after three minutes, Connacht established territorial control through Boschoff in his first start, and hooker Tom McCartney, after marshalling the maul, burst over from second phase, fed by scrumhalf John Cooney to kick-start Connacht's revenge for losing to the Italians last season.

Twelve minutes later, Danie Poolman, a late replacement for Matt Healy, was sent through by Nepia Fox Matamua after a sweet passing move. With Treviso prop Pietro Simone Ferrari yellow carded, Connacht grabbed another two tries from McCartney and Denis Buckley. Cooney converted all four for a 28-3 half-time lead, and then scored the fifth after 49 minutes.

Two more tries followed - replacement hooker Dave Heffernan touching down from a forward drive, and replacement outhalf Jack Carty completing the rout.

With both backs and forwards sharing the scoring blitz, and the maulstarting to work, Lam says Connacht are "not yet perfect, but better and improving". "It's important to be multi faceted. You can't be off the top the whole time, and we needed to get better in other areas of attack. It's important to keep other teams guessing."

Yellow cards: Connacht, C Kelleher (15m ); Treviso, A Pratichetti (28m ); Flammini (72m ).

Connacht: T O'Halloran, C Kelleher, B Aki, S Ili, M Boschoff, M Healy,J Cooney, D Buckley, T McCartney, C Carey, Q Roux, J Cannon, NFox-Matamua, J Heenan, J Muldoon (cpt ). Replacements, D Heffernan for McCartney, C Blade for Cooney ( 53m ), S O'Brien for Heenan (58 ), JP Cooney for Buckley, D Robertson McCoy for Carey, R Parata for Aki (all 60m ), E McKeon for Muldoon (62m ), J Carty for O'Halloran (68m ).

Treviso: D Odiete, A Esposito, M Tagicakibau, A Sgarbi (cpt ), LSperandio, I McKinley, T Tebaldi, A De Marchi, D Giazzon, S Ferrari, MLazzaroni, M Fuser, A Steyn, R Santamaria, M Barbini.Replacements, A Pratichetti for A Esposito 39, F Zani for De Marchi(45m ), L Bigi for Giazzon and E Gori for Tebaldi (both 53 ), V Flamminifor Barbini (55m ), T Allan for Tagicakibau (61 ), N Quaglio for Zani(69 ), M Zanusso for Ferrari (69m ).

Referee: I Davies (WFR ).


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