Schmidt believes in sporting miracles
“People made a lot of the tries scored by Clermont but after two games against them they got one and we got two. The quality of opposition in our pool makes it difficult to get tries and we haven’t had continuity in selection. We have had a number of guys coming in and out. We’ve probably used more guys in the Heineken Cup than ever before. That’s interrupted our flow a little bit.”
Kearney and, more importantly, O’Driscoll’s return should guarantee the creation of more try-scoring opportunities.
Job one, Schmidt continued, will be to establish front-foot possession for these strike-runners so the set piece will be paramount against a Scarlets team that was obliterated 47-17 in Ravenhill last Friday.
As usual the referee will have a significant impact come scrum-time. Leinster and Munster have encountered problems here of late, forcing both Schmidt and his counterpart Rob Penney to write scathing reviews of certain individual refereeing performances after the PRO12 and European matches.
French referee Jerome Garces takes charge tomorrow. There is a growing habit in the Top 14, which is creeping into European games, for officials to award penalties rather than reset scrums. The preference, seemingly, is to avoid a quagmire situation despite uncertainty over which frontrow is actually offending.
The main fitness worries on either side are Nacewa (arm) and gigantic Welsh winger George North (neck), but both are expected to be named when the teams are released at noon.
Bringing closure: Connacht to confirm Lam’s three-year deal
Connacht will bring closure to their process of finding a successor to Eric Elwood today when confirming that the Samoan legend and former captain Pat Lam will take over at the province from next season onwards.
The 35-times capped Lam has signed a three-year deal to assume the reins at Connacht after four years coaching the Auckland provincial side and another four at the Auckland Blues.
In 2011 he guided the Blues to a first Super rugby semi-final since 2007 but despite a late rally last year he was replaced by John Kirwan after an unhappy post-World Cup campaign which, he claims, has made him a better coach.
Since then he was co-opted onto the Samoan coaching ticket for their November tour, in which wins over Canada and Wales, and a narrow defeat to France, saw them rise from 10th to seventh in the world rankings and secure a second-tier seeding for the World Cup draw.
The 35 times capped Elwood indicated his intention to step down last October and it is unclear what all of this will mean for his current assistants, Billy Millard and Dan McFarland. Connacht would probably prefer some element of continuity, while also allowing Lam elbow room in the choice of his back-up team, but it is understood that both assistants are out of contract at the end of the season.
– GERRY THORNLEY