Pressure is mounting on Connacht to produce a winning result when they host Llanelli Scarlets at the Galway Sportsground (6.30pm ) in tomorrow night’s final match befor the break for the Guinness internationals.
With only one win from seven matches, Connacht’s inconsistent form sees them once again propping up the bottom of the Magners League table, and a home victory is essential to ensure they do not lose touch with the pack.
Coach Michael Bradley says Connacht’s backs are to the wall.
“It is now becoming a huge game for us. With only one win in the Magners, it is important we get another.
“ We are better than our results have shown in terms of championship points. Last week we had a championship point to take with a couple of minutes to go, having gained momentum in the game. Then we coughed up a soft try which took everything away from the night’s work.
“Consistency is the drum that all coaches will be beating and we don’t have it at the moment and it is causing us problems.”
With the exception of Ray Ofisa, Bradley has no injury worries and is expected to make a couple of changes from the team that lost to Glasgow last week. Robbie Morris is likely to come in for Jamie Hagan in the front row, while No 8 Mike McComish is due a start having returned from injury. This will result in a move for captain John Muldoon to the blindside, with Mike McCarthy returning to the second row alongside Bernie Upton.
Llanelli, while not enjoying the best start to the league, have gained some momentum with two good wins in the Heineken Cup which they followed up with a victory over the Dragons. A well balanced footballing side, Llanelli will travel without the internationals just named in Warren Gatland’s Wales squad. However they have sufficient strength in depth to cause Connacht problems, not least outhalf Rhys Priestland who comes in for the injured Stephen Jones. He kicked the Scarlets to a 18-3 derby win over Dragons last week, and he can be relied on to punish Connacht indiscretions. Their pack boasts a useful front row in Iestyn Thomas, Kevn Owens and Fijian Deacon Manu, while the backrow of Simon Easterby, Richie Pugh and David Lyons will exploit any weaknesses up front.
It is another big challenge for Connacht, but if they can produce a consistent 80 minutes, a victory is quite possible.
Connacht (probable ) V Llanelli: G Duffy, T Nathan, N Ta’auso, K Matthews, F Carr, I Keatley, F Murphy, B Wilkinson, S Cronin, R Morris, M McCarthy, B Upton, J Muldoon (cpt ), J O’Connor, M McComish. Replacements, A Flavin, J Hagan, M Swift, A Browne, C O’Loughlin, M Nikora, L Bibo.
Poor first half proves costly
Last weekend Connacht’s poor first half cost them dearly, eventually losing to Glasgow in Firhill by 34 - 20.
Connacht had looked dead and buried minutes before half-time when the Warriors had bagged their third try and led by 24 - 6. However Connacht almost turned their fortunes around, outplaying their hosts for the last 60 minutes, and keeping ball in hand, their performance was reflected on the scoreboard. Fionn Carr’s 40m dash after a Frank Murphy intercept inside the Connacht own put them within striking distance at 27 - 20 in the 69th minute. However within a couple of minutes a lapse in concentration saw Glasgow finish off with a deserved victory, fourth try, and bonus point.
Connacht’s defensive errors gifted Glasgow a superb start. Max Evans marked his return from injury with a third minute try after scrumhalf Chris Cusiter found a gaping hole to set up field position. A five-metre scrum paved the way for Glasgow's second try when No 8 John Beattie deceived the Connacht backrow, charging through to score under the posts. And Thom Evans grabbed the third when another hole opened up. Connacht had kept in touch early on with an Ian Keatley drop goal and 19th minute penalty, but at 24 - 6 Connacht were looking at another whitewash away from home.
However Connacht started to retain possession and go through the phases. In their second foray into the 22, with Fionn Carr prominent, Cusiter conceded the penalty which Keatley struck, and he added another to reduce the deficit to 24 - 12 at the interval.
Connacht then came into their own, keeping the ball in hand, and varying their tactics to flood midfield. Both outhalves exchanged penalties, and although Keatley missed another opportunity, Connacht established a firmer grip on proceedings. They did so without Andrew Browne who was the unfortunate player to be pinged for offside and yellow carded as a result after the referee had warned both sides. Connacht's defence ensured Glasgow failed to score during that 10 minutes and when Carr scored Connacht's only try, which Keatley failed to convert, it looked as if Connacht might stage a miraculous recover.