Connacht look to Matt Healy’s pace in final push for qualification

Pat Lam’s team can progress to Challenge Cup quarter-finals with a victory in France

One of the abiding memories from the Sportsground last week was the performance of 25-year-old Connacht wing Matt Healy. He was quite simply exceptional, not alone in scoring a brace of tries, but in creating pandemonium in the Exeter Chiefs defence.

Virtually every time he touched the ball he managed to wriggle free and had he chosen a longer stud or the surface been less yielding he might have managed a hat-trick of touchdowns. The former Gonzaga College schoolboy who caught the eye of Eric Elwood while playing for Lansdowne and was recruited by Connacht is a former Ireland Under-20 international with nine caps.

Blistering pace

He has blistering pace but his intelligence on the ball is an equally striking characteristic. A former winner of Connacht A player of the year, Healy did have one primary deficiency in his game, namely losing ball in contact, but he’s worked hard to remedy that shortcoming.

"I thought he [Healy] was superb last week," said Connacht coach Pat Lam. "The conditions suited Matt's game a lot better. I think the big error from Matt over his previous games was that, while he was dangerous, he lost a lot of ball in contact and he's the first to admit that.


"But he nailed that down. He spent a lot of time with Dave Ellis focusing on ball control in contact. So when you add that to a bit of x-factor in what he does, it resulted in a tremendous performance from Matt. He can be well pleased with himself."

Quite how many opportunities he'll get in France this evening in Connacht's must-win European Challenge Cup game against La Rochelle is a moot point given the injury situation. Craig Ronaldson, injured in the warm-up last weekend, is missing, as is the midfield combination of Dave McSharry (concussion) and Irish international Robbie Henshaw (ankle).

Promote With Bundee Aki still out, Lam

has opted to move Danie Poolman – his team's top try scorer in the tournament – from wing to outside centre and promote Conor Finn as the South Africa's midfield partner. Jack Carty, who started last week's defeat, retains the number 10 jersey.

Daragh Leader is named on the right wing, while Mils Muliaina takes over the captaincy in the absence of flanker John Muldoon, who is on the bench, while Ronan Loughney and Nathan White will form the new pillars of the frontrow.

Victory should be good enough to ensure Connacht progress but they’ll face a tough away quarter-final, possibly against Gloucester.

They hammered La Rochelle in Galway and the French side have lost their last three matches in the competition, albeit that two were away from home. They currently sit at the foot of the French Top 14 Championship.

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer