GUINNESS PRO12: Lam wants Connacht to create something special in Belfast

European Rugby Champions Round 4, Sportsground, Galway 17/12/2016
Connacht vs Wasps
Connacht head coach Pat Lam
Mandatory Credit �INPHO/Morgan Treacy

European Rugby Champions Round 4, Sportsground, Galway 17/12/2016 Connacht vs Wasps Connacht head coach Pat Lam Mandatory Credit �INPHO/Morgan Treacy

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Connacht have enjoyed some special moments over recent seasons - but they still cannot defeat Ulster in Belfast.

They last won away to their rivals in 1960.

Head coach Pat Lam, is more than aware of the statistics ahead of Friday night’s game at Kingspan Stadium.

He said: “We know we don’t have a good record up in Belfast.

“That just means this is a huge opportunity for us to create something special as a group. We’re really looking forward to the challenge.”

Lam has made four personnel changes to his side from that which defeated Wasps with a last gasp converted try in the Champions Cup in Galway last weekend.

Bundee Aki will undergo surgery this week for an ongoing ankle injury and will return in mid-February.

In the absence of recognised midfielders, last week’s try scorer Danie Poolman will start at inside centre for the first time alongside Rory Parata.

With Conor Carey added to the long list of injured props, the versatile Tom McCartney has now been named on the bench to cover loosehead prop.

Dave Heffernan with start the game in the number two shirt while Shane Delahunt is named on the bench as replacement hooker.

James Cannon comes in to the side to partner Quinn Roux in the second row while Galway man Sean O’Brien is promoted from the bench to join the back row with Nepia Fox-Matamua and captain John Muldoon.

There remains a 6-2 split on the bench with just nine backs available to Lam and his coaching team.

Academy back Ciaran Gaffney is this week named in his first match day squad.

The 21-year-old from Galway made 10 appearances, including nine starts, for the Ireland Under-20’s between the 2014 U20 World Championship and the 2015 U20 Six Nations.

Lam said: “This week has probably been the most challenging I’ve had at Connacht Rugby with all the injuries, sickness and the group only coming together yesterday.

“Losing both Bundee (Aki) and Conor (Carey) to long term injuries is a big blow especially with our injury crisis at prop and midfield.

“With 21 injuries in our squad it’s an opportunity for the next player still standing to come in and nail his role in our structures and systems.

“With the named squad not even training once together this week, there has been a huge emphasis once again on the classroom learning and mental preparation.

“I was really proud of the boys with the work they put in last week and the character they showed in adversity to grind out a big win.

“We’ll be looking for the same again this Friday night, albeit in a much tougher environment at a sold out Kingspan Stadium and against a quality side like Ulster,” he added.

TONIGHT’S LINE-UPS

Ulster: C Piutau; L Ludik, L Marshall, S McCloskey, J Stockdale; P Jackson, R Pienaar; A Warwick, R Best (capt), R Ah You; K Treadwell, I Henderson; C Ross, C Henry, R Wilson.

Replacements: R Herring, C Black, W Herbst, F van der Merwe, S Reidy, P Marshall, D Cave, T Bowe.

Connacht: T O’Halloran; N Adeolokun, R Parata, D Poolman, M Healy; J Carty, K Marmion; D Buckley, D Heffernan, F Bealham; Q Roux, J Cannon; S O’Brien, N Fox-Matamua, J Muldoon (capt).

Replacements: S Delahunt, T McCartney, JP Cooney, U Dillane, E McKeon, C Blade, C Gaffney, N Dawai.