Connacht must take their European form to Dublin if they stand any hope of overcoming Leinster at the RDS in Saturday’s RaboDirect Pro 12 interprovincial (6.45pm ).
And coach Pat Lam says this weekend’s clash is the perfect game for his improving squad, having convincingly disposed of Zebre in last Saturday’s Heineken Cup. “After the disappointment of Saracens, the challenge last week was about fronting up to a game we were expected to win, even though it was way from home, so to come away from Italy was massive. Now we face a big challenge against Leinster - guys who have been consistently the best in Europe, full of Irish internationals and overseas internationals. We take confidence from our European form and now we bring it back to the process of trying to win in Dublin,” he says.
However Connacht’s injury list continues to grow. Fullback James So’oialo is the latest. The Samoan, having spent some four months waiting to play for the province due to permit difficulties, finally was given the chance last weekend, but he had little time to display his talent when pulling up with an ankle injury in the first half. As a result of a “badly sprained” ankle, he will be out for up to four weeks, while Jason Harris-Wright had a recurrence of a bicep injury which makes him doubtful for this week’s action. “ Gained nobody and lost an extra two - so that’s the way it is,” says Lam.
The New Zealander does not need to highlight the big difference between the two Irish provinces - namely the number of internationals versus Connacht’s sole Ireland squad member Robbie Henshaw. But in addition the home venue, where Connacht have never won - the last victory in the capital was in 2002 - Leinster’s players are looking for inclusion in the matchday squads for the autumn internationals.
“Some of the Leinster guys are looking at the November internationals to push their claim and with that in mind we know exactly what is coming,” he says.
However Lam says his squad is getting better day by day.
“What we did in Europe is what we have been slowly working towards. Everyone is getting more comfortable with what we are trying to do and every day relations are getting better and better, among players and the coaching group.”
Connacht’s two tries against Zebre came from Dan McFarland’s homework book, and Lam says they will be looking to do it again.
“We know there are certain opportunities Leinster will give us based on the way they defend. We will train for it and try to execute it and bring the emotion to do it the best we can. Similarly their attack, Leinster are a totally different proposition to Zebre and we believe we have a plan that will give us the best opportunity to beat a team stacked with internationals.”
As always, the probability of a victory is stacked against Connacht, but given the promise in Lam’s youthful backline, particularly Henshaw, Kieron Marmion and Matt Healy, who signed this week for another two years, and the solidity of their set piece, the time is approaching when Connacht can upset the odds.