Lam says Connacht are looking for reinforcements as injury toll rises

The western province suffered a home defeat to Munster this evening.

Murray Kinsella reports from the Sportsground

MUNSTER’S 16-9 VICTORY in Galway signalled a seventh Guinness Pro12 defeat of the season for Connacht, exactly the same number of games they lost in the victorious 2015/16 campaign.

There were clear opportunities for Connacht to grab a vital success against the southern province this evening, but they were spurned.

Niyi Adeolokun and Tiernan O’Halloran in the rain Niyi Adeolokun and Tiernan O'Halloran at the Sportsground. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The most damaging passage of the game came with the scoreline at 6-6 in the second half and after Connacht had kicked a penalty into the left-hand corner.

“The key moment of the game was when we were one metre out from their line and we turned the ball over from our maul, trying to go around the corner,” said head coach Pat Lam with more than a hint of regret post-match.

“They kicked it and had some good play chasing, putting the pressure on. They have a lineout down the other end and they score. We did well to work our way back into it, so I don’t fault the effort. We got into bonus-point range, but little errors cost us.

“The boys went for it. We were supposed to be playing against 13 men [at the end of the game], but the fourth official got it wrong and there were 15 on the field when we’re trying to go for it. The boys never gave up, but we lost to a very good Munster side.”

Lam praised Munster’s effort in Galway, pointing to their “collective spirit” and the move to one training base in Limerick this season as important factors in their current run, but he was more concerned with Connacht’s shortcomings.

The westerners are away to the Ospreys next weekend in the Pro12, with the return of their Champions Cup campaign looming thereafter.

Connacht are no strangers to injury crises, but the current spell of troubles in this area is becoming more and more problematic. Lam was without 22 injured players in the build-up to this Munster clash, and said that number looks to have grown this evening.

Sean O’Brien and Peter Robb dejected after the game Sean O'Brien and Peter Robb after Connacht's defeat. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Nepia Fox-Matamua is one fresh injury concern with a rib issue, and Lam is worried about how the huge injury list is affecting Connacht’s preparation.

“I’ve always said that what we do on the weekend is on the back of the quality of the training we do during the week,” said Lam. “Look at all the reports, I’ve said that many times. The real difficulty at the moment is that we can’t get the quality of training that we need to.

“We can’t do live scrums during the week, we can’t do the things we normally do, and that’s no one’s fault. It’s just a fact that over half the squad is out and the academy boys are on holidays.

“We’ve got to dust ourselves off – it looks like we’ve lost a couple more – and just keep going. Hopefully, there’s some light at the end of the tunnel with some injuries soon. We have disruption this week and boys will be heading off to [Ireland] camp, so it is what it is. We’ve got to make the most of what we have.”

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Lam confirmed that Connacht are looking for new players to come in on short-term deals in order to allow them to train fully, but IRFU restrictions mean there is one crucial factor around any potential additions.

“We’re looking, but they’ve got to be Irish-qualified,” said Lam. “We’re looking at all options to get some reinforcements, because some of the injuries we have are long-term, i.e. more than six weeks.”

One such reinforcement this week was John Andress, who appeared off the Connacht bench in the second half against Munster and impressed at scrum time.

Bizarrely, the 32-year-old was released by Munster as recently as 15 December after deciding to retire from professional rugby, stating at that time, “I no longer feel that my body is capable of the rigours that the pro game requires.”

John Muldoon dejected Connacht captain John Muldoon. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Nonetheless, with Connacht in a serious predicament without several injured front rows, Andress answered the province’s call.

“We had a good chat with getting John late in the week and we needed an experienced scrummager because of the amount that are down,” said Lam. “I thought he came on and did well without too much training.

“It’s very difficult to bring in a 20-year-old Irish boy to go in against that sort of game, so to have John’s experience up front – particularly with safety – was important for us.”

Do Connacht need more leeway from the IRFU in terms of who they can bring in on short-term deals? A couple of non-Irish qualified additions on short-term contracts perhaps?

“It is what it is,” said Lam. “We’ve just got to keep working behind the scenes.”

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Murray Kinsella

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