Connacht and Glasgow in shootout at the Sportsgsround

It is now down to the top two teams, Connacht and Glasgow, to fight it out in this final round for a prized home semi-final in the Guinness Pro 12 League.

As expected the Sportsground on Saturday (3pm ) is a sell-out as Connacht seek to nail a home semi-final which would give them the best chance of advancing to the final and pulling off a first title win.

Win or lose, Connacht have already secured a semi-final, but the motivation is massive to finish the league proper, claim a bonus-point win, and seal their incredible rise to the top this season.

"It is fantastic for the entire province, let alone us as a group," says coach Pat Lam. "There is massive motivation to get the home semi-final. We now sit here as one of only two teams that are guaranteed semi-final rugby, and we now also know our destiny is in our hands. Win with a bonus point and we go top of the league and have a home semi-final, win the game, we are guaranteed second at least, depending on other results."

Connacht will have the biggest fight on their hands from Saturday's visitors - the current Pro 12 champions and league leaders, after Connacht slipped last weekend against Treviso, losing in injury time by a single point.

"We don't want to lose twice,"Lam says. "We achieved our No 1 goal of Champions Cup, reset our goals and achieved the semi -final, now we have one game to get a home semi- that is a bonus. Come 5pm on Saturday eight will finish and four will be in the semis. We know before it has started we are already there, so that is what I am happy about."

Glasgow is one of only two sides Connacht have failed to beat this season - Ulster, also fighting for the top four - being the other one. And Gregor Townsend's side will march into town with a squad of internationals who have been gathering pace in the last few weeks at an alarming rate. Pat Lam provided the statistics for each Pro 12 team's number of internationals - Glasgow's 40 have 735 international caps; Connacht's nine with 57 (the least of all 12 teams in the Pro 12 ).

"The reason I show this - it highlights the positives. It is an unbelievable effort that we sit here with an opportunity to win a game and finish top of the league when you consider the quality of players that are in the other teams. We are going up against Glasgow, the defending champions who are playing unbelievable rugby, and who have 40 internationals."

After facing Treviso last week with 10 personnel changes due to injuries and required rest days for the internationals, Connacht will welcome back Kieran Marmion, Matt Healy, and Bundee Aki, a big boost for Connacht in this clash. However neither Denis Buckley nor Nathan White will be available, and it is a worry given Connacht's issues in the scrum last weekend against Treviso - an area Glasgow's forward coach and former Connacht assistant Dan McFarland, will certainly target on Saturday. And Lam must choose between his running outhalf Aj MacGinty or kicking No 10 Jack Carty - neither of whom has had much game time since their respective injuries.

Weather will play its part, the sell-out crowd will be a huge motivating factor in what could be the final game this season at the Sportground, and Connacht will need to be at the very top of their game to get a win against this Scottish side laden with international experience.

"That we are able to get here as the 12th ranked team [in terms of internationals], but sitting in the top two with a chance to finish one is a real credit to everyone. Rugby is a team game and everything we have done is a team effort," says Lam." We don't want to lose twice. There is masssive motivation out there."

And Lam is promising a return to form after the unexpected 22-21 slip-up against lowly Treviso.

"I can tell you now that type of performance won't creep in again. We will use that as motivation," says Lam, after Connacht lost the opportunity to go three points clear of Glasgow. "We have a lot of pride in what we do and that is why we are bitterly disappointed."

"If that had been the last game, it would be a killer. We are all determined now."

In a season of highs, that was certainly one of the lowest, top of the table against the bottom. The desperation and pride of Treviso to hold on to the Italian's Champions Cup spot proved enough to grab an injury-time win against a Connacht outfit that lacked its normal finishing prowess, and was murdered in the scrum.

What was expected to be plain sailing for top-of-the-table Connacht against the league strugglers turned into a disjointed and unstructured affair. Despite the introduction of some of Connacht's heavyweights, which did make a difference, they conceded a last-minute scrum from a forward pass, and the Italians, sensing their moment, took it with all their weight. Winning the penalty they craved, fullback Jayden Haywood knocked over the effort from just inside half way to prompt huge celebrations from the home fans.

Connacht enjoyed a blistering opening 15 minutes, opening their tally with a Rory Parata try after 12 minutes. From a penalty to touch, it was good off the top ball from Quinn Roux, and in a rehearsed move Robb and John Cooney came close before Heenan supplied the perfect pass for Parata to crash over - Cooney adding the conversion.

Within five minutes Pat Lam's side had struck for the second - Carr finished Carty's through-chip and Cooney converting. It looked like Connacht were well on their way to bonus-point win.

However Treviso took control, their scrum providing the platform. And over the next 30 minutes out-muscled Connacht at the breakdown, and capitalised with 19 unanswered points.

Scrumhalf Edoardo Gori set up the first try, which centre Luca Morisi finished off, and although fullback Jayden Hayward missed the conversion, it provided the home side with impetus. No 8 Abraham Steyn, racing up the line, claimed the second, despite a foot in touch, and Hayward's conversion closed the gap to just two points.

Connacht reclaimed the initiative from a penalty to touch, but after three successive penalties Connacht were unable to score, going into the break 14-12 ahead.

The second half start was ominous for what was to follow when Treviso, with the upper hand in the scrum, forced three penalties, and with the fourth leading to a penalty try, and Hayward's conversion put the home side in front for the first time. They continued to hold sway up front until the introduction of Robbie Henshaw and Aj MaGinty seemed to spark Connacht again.

A turnover from Jake Heenan provided the platform, and it was Connacht of old as they attacked with pace, O'Halloran and Cooney eventually sending Peter Robb through in the right corner, with the TMO confirming the Academy centre's first try for Connacht. Cooney adding the conversion to put Pat Lam's side back into the lead by 21-19.

But it was not enough as another execution failure handed Treviso the initiative and the win with an injury-time penalty.

Connacht: T O'Halloran, N Adeolokun, R Parata, P Robb, F Carr, J Carty J Cooney, R Loughney, T McCartney (cpt ), R Ah You, Q Roux, A Browne, S O'Brien, J Heenan, E McKeon. Replacements, F Bealham for Loughney (44 ), Aj MacGinty for Carty and R Henshaw for Parata (51 ), J Muldoon for Heenan (57 ), JP Cooney for Ah YOu (59 ), C Blade for Cooney (67 ) and A Muldowney for Roux (67 ), D Heffernan for McCartney (79 ).

Advertisement

 

Page generated in 0.0736 seconds.