Connacht eager to return to winning ways
Pat Lam’s side looking to back from successive defeats with a win against Edinburgh
Tiernan O’Halloran: has made the most metres and carries of any player in the league this season and makes his 100th PRO12 appearance. Photograph: Alfio Guarise/Inpho
Edinburgh v Connacht Myreside, Kick-off: 7.35pm (On TV: Live on TG4 and BBC Alba)
Realistically, both teams appear to be marking time until the end of what has been an underwhelming season in each case, with Connacht merely jostling for one of the play-off places and a difficult, circuitous route to next season’s Champions Cup, with Edinburgh consigned to the Challenge Cup.
Connacht have fond memories from visiting the Scottish capital last season, when a bonus point win at Murrayfield was the catalyst for a barnstorming end-of-season run which culminated in their memorable triumph over Leinster in the final at the same venue.
They have lost won their last three collisions with Edinburgh, albeit this is their first visit to Myreside.
There is more than a grain of truth in Pat Lam’s assertion that their brand of running rugby is still creating chances, witness the defeat away to Glasgow prior to their loss in Parma, but their defence has been porous.
In any event, amid clear signs that they are missing their departed skills coach Dave Ellis, they badly need to rediscover some momentum after back-to-back losses. Following this game, Connacht host Leinster and the Scarlets before a last day derby away to Munster.
Lam has made seven changes to the Connacht team which lost last week away to Zebre, with predictable returns for the rested duo of Tiernan O’Halloran and Kieran Marmion. In the process, O’Halloran, who has made the most metres and carries of any player in the league, thus makes his 100th PRO12 appearance.
A third international back, the fit-again Niyi Adeolokun, also returns on the right ring, with Danie Poolman switches to the left while Steve Crosbie makes his second start for the province at out-half. Having returned from injury off the bench last week, Eoin Griffin partners Bundee Aki in midfield.
Dominic Robertson McCoy replaces Finlay Bealham in the front row while Jake Heenan has recovered from a minor shin injury to start at openside flanker.
The list of players still sidelined includes Ronan Loughney, Conor Carey, Ultan Dillane, Nepia Fox-Matamua, James Connolly, Marnitz Boshoff, Peter Robb, Matt Healy, Cian Kelleher, Darragh Leader and Stacey Ili.
Looking ahead to their third away game in succession, Lam said: “We have an opportunity to produce a performance we can be proud of. Although we have been creating numerous opportunities to score, it is all about making sure we take those chances tomorrow night. Edinburgh are always tough, physical opposition and we are looking forward to a big challenge on our first visit to Myreside.”
Edinburgh have lost six league matches in a row, and following their exit from the Challenge Cup to a La Rochelle side who played some wonderfully exciting rugby, Edinburgh’s acting head coach Duncan Hodge has made six changes to his starting line-up.
Glenn Bryce and Rory Scholes return to the back three, while Nathan Fowles and Duncan Weir replace Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and Jason Tovey at half-back. Up front, Ben Toolis and Fraser McKenzie form a new second-row.
“We want to provide a good performance for our home support,” said Hodge, “and need the basics of our game to be in order with an attitude and intensity to match. That will give us the platform we need, and help us control the game. Connacht will be hungry to bounce back from their defeat to Zebre, but we hold home advantage and want to make that count tomorrow night.”
EDINBURGH: G Bryce; D Hoyland, C Dean, P Burleigh, R Scholes; D Weir, N Fowles; M McCallum, R Ford (capt), S Berghan, F McKenzie, B Toolis, V Mata, H Watson, C du Preez. Replacements: S McInally, D Appiah, K Bryce, G Gilchrist, J Ritchie, S Hidalgo-Clyne, T Brown, J Rasolea.
CONNACHT: T O’Halloran; N Adeolokun, E Griffin, B Aki, D Poolman; S Crosbie, K Marmion; D Buckley, T McCartney, D Robertson-McCoy, Q Roux, A Browne, E McKeon, J Heenan, J Muldoon (capt). Replacements: S Delahunt, JP Cooney, F Bealham, J Cannon, S O’Brien, C Blade, J Carty, J Rowland.
Referee: Dan Jones (WRU)
Overall PRO12 head to head record: Played 28, Edinburgh won 14, Connacht won 12 and 2 games drawn.
Last six meetings: (2013-14) Connacht 11 Edinburgh 7. (2014-15) Edinburgh 13 Connacht 14, Connacht 13 Edinburgh 16. (2015-16) Connacht 14 Edinburgh 9, Edinburgh 23 Connacht 28. (2016-17) Connacht 28 Edinburgh 15.
Leading points scorers: Edinburgh – Duncan Weir 93. Connacht – Jack Carty 70, Craig Ronaldson 50.
Leading try scorers: Edinburgh – Magnus Bradbury 5. Connacht – Niyi Adeolokun 6.
Betting (Paddy Powers): 4/7 Edinburgh, 18/1 Draw, 6/4 Connacht. Handicap odds (Connacht +4pts) 10/11 Edinburgh, 22/1 Draw, 10/11 Connacht.
Forecast: Connacht to win.