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In-form Connacht are striving to maintain title tilt

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

For three weeks, Connacht have led the way atop the Guinness Pro12 but if they are enjoying the air up there they will need to produce their best performance of the season to get a result in Thomond Park and stay there.

Pat Lam's team made the most of the other teams' distractions when the World Cup was on, now their challenge is to keep pace with the big guns when their top players are back in harness.

He must do so without a couple of big players of his own, with Naas native James Connolly handed his debut at openside after Nepia Fox Matamua suffered a serious knee injury.

Munster hand Argentina winger Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino his debut on the left wing and, while that means Simon Zebo has a weekend off, the home side field a potent backline that sees Keith Earls come into the centre to partner All Black Francis Saili.

Up front, Foley has gone with a strong combination of experienced forwards and with conditions forecast to be difficult it will be about getting the upper hand in the tight exchanges and half-back control.

Conor Murray is another leading light to miss out after injuring his foot in training, but Tomas O'Leary will get a chance to impress alongside Ian Keatley. With Eoin Reddan and Isaac Boss both struggling for form, there is a real opportunity for O'Leary to force his way back into the national reckoning.

It would be a real shame if the weather prevented those box-office figures from shining, but it may be a day for pragmatism.

That could suit Munster who look more suited to a ground and pound gameplan.

However, Connacht need to make a statement to show they belong in this company.

Munster are missing key internationals, yet they are just one point behind Connacht in second in the table and are on a winning run. Unlike their provincial rivals, they remain alive and kicking in Europe and a win here would do them the world of good.

It's up to Connacht to stop them.

Belfast Telegraph


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