Connacht need win as gravity of situation weighs heavy on hearts and minds
Pat Lam’s men must make mark against Edinburgh with tough October looming
Connacht prop Conor Carey will start against Edinburgh. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Connacht v Edinburgh, The Sportsground, Friday, 7.45 (TG4)
Connacht need a win of any hue, starting now. Sitting at the bottom of the table with zero points is not a start becoming of reigning champions and after this encounter looms a challenging October, with derbies at home to Ulster and away to Leinster either side of European Champions Cup games at home to Toulouse and away to Zebre.
Perhaps with that in mind, and Finlay Bealham’s likely absence during November, Pat Lam gives a debut to 25-year-old former Ulster and Irish underage tighthead Conor Carey, whom they signed from Nottingham in the summer.
Last week’s 17-8 defeat away to the Scarlets did see an improvement, noticeably in Connacht’s defensive line speed and work-rate, and they were well in the game for an hour before a combination of curious tactics (cross-kicking off an attacking scrum in the direction of Liam Williams?) and both handling and defensive errors helped to undo them.
It is unlikely Connacht will reap the same harvest from scrums as Munster did against the Scots last weekend, all the more so as WP Nel is one of four Test forwards restored to the Edinburgh pack, along with Ross Ford, Grant Gilchrist and John Hardie. Scrumhalf Sean Kennedy and centre Solomoni Rasolea also return.
Nor is the departure of Alan Solomons during the week necessarily a good thing for Connacht. Duncan Hodge is acting head coach and teams very often receive an immediate bounce from a change in coach.
The pair’s last three meetings here have been highly physical, low-scoring arm wrestles and, despite the presence of Nigel Owens, two out-of-form sides desperately seeking a win are liable to maintain the trend.
Connacht are perhaps more needful, settled and inventive.
CONNACHT: T O’Halloran; N Adeolokun, B Aki, P Robb, M Healy; J Carty, K Marmion; D Buckley, T McCartney, C Carey, Q Roux, U Dillane, E McKeon, J Heenan, J Muldoon (capt). Replacements: D Heffernan, R Loughney, F Bealham, L Stevenson, J Connolly, C Blade, S O’Leary, C Kelleher.
EDINBURGH: G Bryce; D Hoyland, C Dean, S Rasolea, M Allen; J Tovey, S Kennedy; R Sutherland, R Ford, WP Nel, B Toolis, G Gilchrist (capt), M Bradbury, J Hardie, C Du Preez. Replacements: S McInally, J Cosgrove, A Dell, L Carmichael, H Watson, S Hidalgo-Clyne, S Tofilau, B Kinghorn.
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)
Last three seasons: (2013-14) – Edinburgh 43 Connacht 10; Connacht 11 Edinburgh 7; (2014-15) – Edinburgh 13 Connacht 14; Connacht 13 Edinburgh 16. (2015-16) Connacht 14 Edinburgh 9; Edinburgh 23 Connacht 28.
Leading try scorers: Connacht – Niyi Adeolokun 2. Edinburgh – Magnus Badbury, Mike Allen 2 each.
Leading points scorers: Connacht – Niyi Adeolokun 10. Edinburgh – Duncan Weir 28.
Betting (Paddy Power): 4/9 Connacht, 20/1 Draw, 15/8 Edinburgh 15/8. Handicap odds (Edinburgh +5pts) 10/11 Connacht, 22/1 Draw, 10/11 Edinburgh.
Forecast: Connacht to win.