Crunch time for Lam's Connacht

e on the line in this next block of four Guinness Pro 12 fixtures, starting on Saturday with an away fixture to Glasgow Warriors. And to make the task that more challenging for the title holders, it involves three away fixtures on the bounce, starting with the 2015 champions, and finishing with a home game against Leinster.

Now is the time Connacht need to produce the rugby that took them to new heights last season, and coach Pat Lam says from here on in, selection will be based on the best team available each week. If there was ever a time for players to step up, it is now - or they will be left on the sidelines, not only on match day, but also in training.

"We are now in a situation where we have to play the best players, the best team and it's got to be competition because competition is what we have always thrived on," says Lam. "Even when we have lost players, we can't train everybody, so players have to try to make the training squad as well.

"We have been back to that scenario in the last four weeks which is great. Focusing on what we can do is most important, and wherever that takes us, if we can win every game for the rest of the year, there is no doubt we will be in Champions Cup."

Games between these two sides have traditionally been close and Saturday's fixture is no different as both need a late assault to qualify.

"It's exciting for us to go to Glasgow and make a bit of history, having never won in Scotstoun," says Lam. " They are sixth and we are seventh; there are four/five points available, both want them, both need them.

"A lot of the guys in the squad have set very high standards, and that is the challenge. There is a tour at the end of the year which is motivation, Champions Cup is a motivation, and there is a lot of pride, and we are all determined to finish this run really strongly. No doubt, this is the big one, and this four is a tough ask - definitely harder than the last four because it's three away on the trot, and then we have Leinster here."

Missing this week are Ireland lock Ultan Dillane (shoulder surgery ), Matt Healy (hand ), Nepia Fox Matamua (ACL ), Cian Kelleher (hamstring ), Conor Carey (foot ) and Marnitz Boshoff (compassionate leave ) will be missing.

Boshoff was due to play against Glasgow on Saturday, but he has returned home after the sudden death of his father. The sad news comes within weeks of the birth of Boshoff's first baby and just a day before his parents were due to fly to Ireland to see their new grandson, Zean.

"He was going well and was available for selection," says Lam. "He trained fully last week, did all the contact stuff, and ticked all the boxes, but the main thing now is for him to get home and be the strong character he is for the family."

Ireland lock Ultan Dillane is now ruled out for the season after shoulder surgery, but Lam believes there are better things ahead for the Tralee-born player.

"No doubt he could have carried on, but he's having it sorted and he will come back stronger. There are bigger things ahead. He will get a good pre-season for Connacht, and I believe he will have a msssive year next year building towards the World Cup. There is no good time [to get injured], but he can write this season off and more importantly build for next seaon, and he will get bigger, stronger, and faster."

Goods news for this crunch fixture is the availability of internationals Tiernan O'Halloran, Quinn Roux and Kieran Marmion who, Lam said, was now established as a scrumhalf who could play at that level.

"We all know here the class he is, the competitor he is, but to do it on the big stage - I thought he did really well against Wales, and he got them back into the game, and then he was class at the weekend.

"He is one of the best defensive half-backs around, he's an energiser, a really good runner with the ball, and I believe a lot of space opened up wide because of him."

Marmion is expected to play a pivotal role in the next six fixtures. The bottom line is to qualify, no matter which way. Whether Connacht have left it too late, time will tell in the next six games, Lam says.

"However we get in there, so be it. I'd be very disappointed if we don't get in there."


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