Pat Lam plays down injury crisis as Connacht face Munster
League leaders hoping to end their bad away record at Thomond Park fortress
Connacht head coach Pat Lam: “You want a full complement to select from, but the thing that I’m pleased with is the way that we have trained as a squad.” Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Pat Lam yesterday insisted it is just another game, with another four points on the line. But in travelling to Thomond Park on Saturday atop the Guinness Pro12 table to face their nearest early-season challengers, Connacht will also attempt to put to rights one of the longest losing runs known to Irish rugby.
The Connacht coach also insisted they don’t look at records, but their 24-16 victory over Munster in Galway on New Year’s Day was their first victory over their southern neighbours since 2008. Connacht have not beaten Munster at Thomond Park since 1986.
As ever though, according to Lam, adhering to “the process” and the team’s systems deflects from the baggage of history as well the high stakes that comes with Saturday’s derby.
“If you look through the last number of years (you’ll see) how much history we’ve actually broken. Even now I think it’s the most number of games we’ve actually won on the trot. We haven’t even talked about that. We’ve just read that. It’s about here’s another chance for us to play.”
“Top of the table now means nothing until you’re near the top come May. That’s when it counts. We were there in that top four/top six last year too and we fell away at the end, so we know that to look at it now is foolish. Our focus is to look at this game as purely four points . . .”
Lam gave an updated medical briefing after the “big physical game” against Brive last Saturday. They are awaiting the outcome of a scan on Kiwi openside Nepia Fox Matamua and whether, as feared, he suffered an anterior cruciate ligament or a medial collateral ligament injury. If the former, he’s liable to miss six or eight months, whereas with the latter it would be six or eight weeks.
Scrumhalf John Cooney will be sidelined for three months after shoulder surgery, Fionn Carr (calf) is out for three to four weeks and Danie Poolman is still rehabbing his hamstring. Eoin McKeon and Ben Marshall, as well as Dave McSharry from the Connacht Eagles game, sustained concussion and are undergoing the return to play protocols.
“Obviously, it’s not ideal,” admitted Lam. “You want a full complement to select from, but the thing that I’m pleased with is the way that we have trained as a squad.”
Citing the way James Connolly and Eoghan Masterson have filled the void left by the long-term injuries to Jake Heenan and now Fox-Matamua as examples of their improved academy production line, Lam maintained: “As long as guys are performing it makes things much easier.”