Connacht will hope that the debut of Dan Parks for the province this evening in the first inter-provincal of the season will be able to give them a springboard to success against Leinster. In the pre-game media build up, Connacht coach Eric Elwood said he was “hopeful” that Parks would make his debut saying, “Dan did some conditioning last week and came through ok, but we will have to see how he backs that up over the week.” But come yesterday’s team announcement Parks made the starting 15 at out-half.
Parks was one of 15 players unavailable against Glasgow, and injuries have continued to hamper training. While Andrew Browne, Frank Murphy, Danie Poolman, Gavin Duffy, John Muldoon, Brian Murphy, and Paul O’Donohue are definitely out of action, it was hoped the remainder of the squad will have made a full recovery. Mike McCarthy pulled out of Irish squad training with a quad strain, but is fit to return to the second row, while up front Nathan White has got over a shoulder injury and will captain the side and line out with Denis Buckley and Adrian Flavin in the front row. Tiernan O’Halloran has recovered from a dead leg after missing last weekend’s fixture will take his place on the wing. Eoin Griffin also makes a return to the centre, while outhalf Miah Nikora was also rested last week after suffering a shoulder injury is on the bench.
Elwood says the continuing injuries has been taking their toll.
“We seem to be picking up injuries every game and not getting the injured guys back as quick as we would like. It’s pretty tough going at the moment.”
Whatever squad Elwood names for this evenings fixture will be tested by a Leinster squad that will also be missing a host of internationals. “Leinster had a big strong team last weekend and Edinburgh challenged them, but regardless of what team they send down, it will be difficult for us. Derby matches are always special, but you are never going to get an easy one.” Elwood is concerned with Connacht’s leaky defence, which conceded eight tries in the last two matches. “We have addressed the issue this week and we are very honest in our assessment - it is not good enough and not acceptable. We cannot tolerate any more. We are far better than that, but statistics don’t lie, four tries in the last two games is not good enough.”
Elwood said the standard of attacking was getting better, but it was not excuse to leak soft scores.
“Hands up, some of those scores were preventable. We are far better than that, and we will have another opportunity to show that against Leinster - another strong attacking side - and that is the challenge.
“We also have to box a little bit clever and get meander in defence. It is time to start making teams earn their scores.”
Given the number of injuries and disruptions, it is difficult to see Connacht achieving a win over Leinster, despite running them close in the recent past. However Elwood says it is a challenge Connacht have always relished. “We have an obligation to ourselves and our supporters. We know the last couple of results have not been good, and now we have an opportunity in this derby match to get things right. We are all hurting here at the moment because we are proud of what we do, and now we have a must-win game this Friday.”
Last weekend Connacht, with 15 players unavailable, produced a gutsy display against the Warriors in Scotstoun but lost by 27 - 17.
Although the home side had taken a 15 - 0 lead in the first half, Connacht showed considerable spirit to fight back, come within a bonus point, but ultimately miss out in this first visit to the Warriors new Scotstoun ground. “We had 15 guys unavailable, players making their first competitive start, and then we had to reshuffle when Gavin [Dufy] went off, and with all due respects to those players - several of whom were third choice - I thought they were terrific,” Elwood said.
“With 69 minutes gone on the clock, it was still 22-17 and they deserve a lot of credit against one of the best defensive teams in the league.”