Connacht coach Pat Lam insists his players will “front up” for home supporters on Saturday when they entertain Edinburgh in the Rabodirect Pro 12 at the Galway Sportsground (5pm).
It is Connacht’s first home fixture in five weeks since they completed the Heineken Cup double over Zebre with a 20-3 win, but still fresh in their minds is the hammering dished out by Saracens and that “embarrassing” second-half capitulation to Saturday’s visitors in Edinburgh in November.
“It is fair to say that [43-10 loss to Edinburgh] was the first game we were right off the mark, but we came back the following week against Toulouse. More importantly for our own fans, we cannot afford to have days where collectively we don’t show up and do our jobs.”
Lam says he feels for the frustrations of the fans.
“People will always be loyal but they don’t want us staying where we are. It’s part of the territory that when you win, people pat you on the back, and when you don’t, people are not happy. We understand that, but we appreciate their support and that is key.
“This is a home game, we haven’t been here for five weeks, and we need to front up,” he says.
Edinburgh, similar to Glasgow, have a big squad - some of whom may be released from international duty this weekend. They sit in eighth positions with 22 points from five wins, but have two games in hand due to weather postponements. Their last visit to the Sportsground in December 2012 saw them edge the contest by a single point.
Lam says Connacht are three wins away from eighth place, but if they are to move up the table, then it needs to start on Saturday against the likes of Edinburgh. And that 43-10 loss in Murrayfield is very much in Connacht’s mindset.
“When we talk about the highs and lows, it is right there with the lows, but it is all very well saying things, we have to go out and do it. A lot of the guys involved that day will be involved this week. They know they cannot underestimate Edinburgh and the difference it makes if they are not on their game.”
Lam remains without key squad members Craig Clarke (concussion), Nathan White (three game ban - two remaining), Brett Wilkinson and Sean Henry (neck), and Gavin Duffy (shoulder). Matt Healy, with a hip injury, is unlikely, having been replaced in the first half last weekend. Back from injury, both Miah Nikora and Dave McSharry featured in the Eagles one-point loss to Munster A last Friday, and with Robbie Henshaw expected to continue at fullback, McSharry will definitely come into contention. There is also a possible return for Danie Poolman, who was a late withdrawal against the Eagles with an on-going knee injury.
Lam says much will “depend on what is there is in the backs” come selection time.
“Craig [Ronaldson] did well against Saracens [at home’. He gives you a different type of game, a left foot, and the kicking, but it would be nice to have a few numbers there. Our backline resources are pretty low and there are a few niggles. If forced to put a player in, we acknowledge that they have not had much game time.”
Both Mick Kearney (ankle) and Andrew Browne (cut eye) are expected to be fully fit in what is expected to be a team with little change from last weekend’s side that lost 8-6 to Glasgow at Scotstoun.
Lam says it was another case of “missed opportunities” that are stacking up. Despite the atrocious conditions, Connacht’s defence proved nearly impregnable, but for one mistake which allowed winger Mark Bennett to cross for the game’s only try, while the visitors missed three kicks at goal.
“We left nine points from the kicks and let in an unbelievably soft try. We had 99 per cent territory with us in the first half, and in the second half it was 95 per cent to them, with no team crossing the 10 m line. There was just one line break in the game and they scored from an error. Had we had another six or nine points, I would have been quite comfortable defending that lead in the second half,” Lam says.
Connacht, with a 6-5 half time lead, conceded a penalty just after the break from Ruaridh Jackson, and held out in a scoreless second 40 minutes.
“We defended extremely well in the second half - a big effort, but with no reward. That is the story of our season - a missed opportunity. The game plan gives us opportunities, we had them, but we didn’t take them. We didn’t execute as well as we could have.”
Connacht v Glasgow: R Henshaw, F Carr, E Griffin, Craig Ronaldson, M Healy, J Carty, K Marmion, D Buckley, J Harris-Wright, R Ah You, M Kearney, A Browne, J Muldoon (cpt), J Heenen, G Naoupu. Replacements, D Leader for M Healy (24m), M Swift for Naoupu (53m), R Loughney for Ah You 54m), D Parks for Carty (57m), A Muldowney for Kearney (58m), D Heffernan for Browne (60m), P O'Donohoe for Marmion (71m), JP Cooney for Buckley (75m).