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Dublin: 11 °C Tuesday 23 December, 2014

Lam looks to experience to lead Connacht’s last stand

Coach Pat Lam has made four changes for the Pool 3 finale against Saracens.

Craig Clarke: captains the side from the second row.
Craig Clarke: captains the side from the second row.
Image: INPHO/James Crombie

PAT LAM HAS thrown down the gauntlet to his big names ahead of Connacht’s last stand against Saracens.

The Premiership giants are 22-point favourites for tomorrow’s game in Allianz Park as they chase a place in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals.

A win would not only give Connacht their best-ever record in the competition but also guarantee them at least a quarter-final in the Amlin Challenge Cup.

Lam has recalled veteran out-half Dan Parks, who is 27 shy of 500 Heineken Cup points, and full-back Gavin Duffy while the vastly experienced Michael Swift and captain Craig Clarke return to the second row.

John Muldoon shifts to number eight, replacing Eoin McKeon who is expected to miss up to two months following surgery on a hand injury.

“This is a huge game for Connacht Rugby, we all know that,” Lam said. “Win and we qualify for a quarter final in Europe.

“Big games require your big players to step up and lead the way so it’s great to be able to call on four of our most experienced players — Gavin, Dan, Swifty and Craig — this week.”

Saracens lie second and know that a win tomorrow would guarantee them a place as one of the best runners-up.

But that would need a minor miracle to haul in Toulouse who already have one foot in the last eight and will be gunning for home advantage when they travel to Zebre in Pool 3′s other game.

“We have a lot of respect for what Saracens are achieving,” Lam said.

“They are well coached, well resourced and top of the English premiership, with an excellent stadium. They have only lost once on this new 4G surface and they have racked up a high number of points against opposition teams.

“If we play as individuals, it will be a long day at the office tomorrow.”

Saracens: Alex Goode; Chris Ashton, Duncan Taylor, Brad Barritt, David Strettle; Charlie Hodgson, Richard Wigglesworth; Mako Vunipola, Schalk Brits, Matt Stevens; Steve Borthwick (c), George Kruis; Billy Vunipola, Kelly Brown, Ernst Joubert.

Replacements: Jamie George, Richard Barrington, James Johnston, Alistair Hargreaves, Jackson Wray, Neil de Kock, Owen Farrell, Chris Wyles.

Connacht: Gavin Duffy; Fionn Carr, Robbie Henshaw, Eoin Griffin, Matt Healy; Dan Parks, Kieran Marmion; Brett Wilkinson, Sean Henry, Nathan White; Michael Swift, Craig Clarke (c); Andrew Browne, Jake Heenan, John Muldoon.

Replacements: Jason Harris-Wright, Denis Buckley, Rodney Ah You, Mick Kearney, George Naoupu, Paul O’Donohoe, Darragh Leader, Tiernan O’Halloran.

150-cap Rory Best focused only on the elusive home quarter-final

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