Depleted Connacht facing a difficult assignment

Pat Lam’s squad without 20-first team players as they head to Newcastle

 

The law is indeed an ass in this case as Connacht travel to Newcastle for this European Challenge Cup fixture one man short in terms of their match-day squad because of a crippling injury list.

The province, without 20-first team players, 11 of whom are backs, applied to EPC Rugby this week to be allowed to add two backs, Conor McKeown and Ciaran Gaffney, to the list of players eligible to play in the tournament as they had only nine remaining in their squad with 10 ordinarily required for a match. 

The request was turned down and while that is in accordance with the letter of the law it certainly isn’t imbued with the spirit of sport.  

The injury list is genuine and the upshot now is that they travel with just two replacement backs in Ian Porter and last week’s 21-point hero, Jack Carty. There was further bad news yesterday when prop Ronan Loughney pulled out with a back issue.

Pulled up

Connacht coach Pat Lam had intended to make him the 23rd man on a bench that would have contained five frontrow forwards to go with the three on the pitch. Hooker Dave Heffernan is already acting as backrow cover. 

He explained: “Initially we had 23 players named for this weekend with eight front rowers included but unfortunately we lost Ronan Loughney at training when he pulled up with a minor back injury. 

“So although we are down to just nine fit backs in our European squad, we have 22 players travelling who have brought a real intensity to training this week . . . ”

Teenager Conan O’Donnell, a member of the Ireland Under-20 squad last season, makes his first start at loosehead prop, Andrew Browne is back after injury while so too is Eoghan Masterson and centre Craig Ronaldson. Daniel Poolman switched to fullback. 

Given the number of kickable penalties conceded last week, Newcastle coach Dean Richards will be looking for improved discipline from his side. A big pack and familiarity with the 4G surface will make them favourites to overturn last week’s 25-10 defeat.

NEWCASTLE FALCONS: S Hammersley; A Tait, B Agulla, C Harris, M Watson; C Willis, T Takulua; A Rogers, S Lawson, J Welsh; M Botha, S Robinson, W Welch (capt), D Temm, A Hogg. Replacements: G McGuigan, R Vickers, T Vea, C Green, R Mayhew, M Young, T Catterick, J Socino.

CONNACHT RUGBY: D Poolman; R Parata, P Robb, C Ronaldson, N Adeolokun; S O’Leary, C Blade; C O’Donnell, J Harris Wright, R Ah You; D Qualter, A Browne; S O’Brien, E Masterson, G Naoupu (capt). Replacements: S Delahunt, F Bealham, S Meunargia, A Muldowney, D Heffernan, I Porter, J Carty.

Referee: B Whitehouse (Wales)

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