Connacht refocused after Siberian saga

Pat Lam’s side take on Brive not having lost at home to French side since 2008

Nathan White will make his 50th appearance for the province. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Nathan White will make his 50th appearance for the province. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

Connacht’s protracted pilgrimage to Siberia and back was unexpectedly extended by 66 hours on the way home in what proved to be a seven-day round trip. Travel may indeed broaden the mind but that probably doesn’t include the inside of airport terminals.

Pat Lam has made 13 changes while retaining a baker’s dozen of last weekend’s match-day squad for the visit of Brive to Galway. There were legitimately grounds for bemoaning the fractured preparations but the Connacht coach isn’t that type of person. Relentlessly positive, he saw the silver lining.

“With injuries to players, we knew before the trip to Russia that we would need guys to double up for rounds one and two and we were prepared for that. While we weren’t prepared for the shortened three-day week, we have just said all week that we can’t control these things and I am impressed with the way the management and players have fronted up to get ready for this game as best we can.

“We had later starts this week and trained into the evenings to allow the guys coming back from Russia to recover as much as possible. The attitude has been really positive and upbeat. There is huge competition for places in this squad and players are raring to go.

Analysis

“Three days spent in airports and hotels gave us a good bit of time to build on our analysis on Brive and we had a good look at their win over Newcastle. We know that they are going to be very physical and a good challenge for us.”

Coincidentally Brive is the last French team to win a European Challenge Cup match at the Sportsground, a 22-15 win in 2008. The home supporters may prefer to lean on a different lamppost statistically in that they have won 11 of their last 12 matches against French opposition in Galway.

Ireland players Robbie Henshaw and Nathan White – the latter making his 50th appearance for the province – return as does hooker Jason Harris-Wright, who has recovered from a long term injury.

Brive will be a proper test for Connacht but as they have proved so far this season, they are capable of clearing most hurdles, a run that should continue.

Connacht v Brive, Sportsground, Galway, Saturday, 5pm

CONNACHT: T O’Halloran; R Parata, R Henshaw, B Aki, D Poolman; J Carty, K Marmion; R Loughney, J Harris-Wright, N White; B Marshall, A Browne; E Masterson, N Fox-Matamua, E McKeon.

Replacements: D Heffernan, C O’Donnell, F Bealham, D Qualter, G Naoupu, I Porter, C Ronaldson, N Adeolokun. BRIVE: R Sola; E Radikedike, B Petre, C Tuatara, B Masilevu; M Ugalde, JB Pejoine (capt); D Lavergne, T Acquier, K Buys; K Snyman, W Steenkamp; H Briatte, P Luafutu, W Whetton.

Replacements: G Ribes, G Shvelidze, G Jgenti, V Lebas, S Hireche, T Iribaren, A Mafi, S Galala. Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys (England)

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