Connacht hope to hobble to victory over Zebre in Italy
Injuries mount for Pat Lam’s side but they should still have enough for the home side
Robbie Henshaw’s play today against Zebre at 13 could have ramifications for Ireland. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
In stark contrast in particular to Leinster, when Connacht are hit by a wave of injuries it quickly becomes a crisis.
It’s a numbers thing. And it is only going to get worse as the season motors along.
That’s why victory in Parma this lunch time is so important in the general scheme of Connacht’s first campaign under Pat Lam.
That’s a far from ideal scenario but equally problematic is Nathan White’s continued absence at tighthead but at least some frontrow injuries are clearing up.
“It’s great to welcome back Ronan Loughney as well as Jason Harris-Wright to the bench,” said Lam. “But with the performance of last week’s frontrow against Saracens, they deserve another opportunity to back it up again.
“James So’oialo starts in his preferred international position of 15 which gives Gavin Duffy a well-deserved break and a chance to make an impact from the bench. And Craig Ronaldson gets a second start at inside centre after such an encouraging performance against Saracens.”
Craig Ronaldson, an outhalf by trade, keeps McSharry in reserve. Such was McSharry’s form last term that he was poised to be capped on the summer tour to North America but the decision to stick with a Ronaldson and Parks combination appears to show Lam’s hand.
Connacht, if they can secure their own set-piece, will in all likelihood play for territory.
It can be confidently predicted Craig Clarke will produce a decent lineout return so Rodney Ah You will come under the microscope. Loughney may be needed sooner rather than later, unless the Kiwi project player has made a significant leap in recent months.
From an Irish perspective, the main focus from this game is Robbie Henshaw’s progress at outside centre. Especially considering Brian O’Driscoll’s calf tear has yet to heal. Henshaw was one of several to make brave contributions in the resistance of Saracens, topping the tackle count with 13 last week. However, this is a completely different and far more daunting challenge.
But Connacht, if everything goes according to plan, can bring more than respectability to a season that is not quite on a knife edge but isn’t far off.