Winning at home is essential as Connacht seek to better last season

Connacht are back in the Galway Sportsground on Saturday looking to open their home account in this season's PRO14 campaign against an ever-improving Benetton Treviso.

Both sides lost their opening day fixtures, but if Connacht want to improve on, or even equal, last year's quarter-final, then a victory on Saturday is crucial.

"It is important we start at home on a winning note this weekend," says Connacht's backs coach Nigel Carolan. "We have set our stall to win as many home games as possible, so it starts on Saturday."

Last week's performance against Scarlets, particularly in the opening half, failed to capture some of the pre-season form that delivered three wins and 14 tries. It was an opportunity lost given the Welsh side's loss of 15 players on World Cup duty, and Benetton Treviso have a similar number.

However the Italians, under astute coach Kieran Crowley, also enjoyed one of their best seasons last year, achieving a top three finish in their conference to reach the play-offs, and they will arrive in Connacht looking for a valuable away scalp after their closely fought encounter with Leinster, losing by five, 27-32. That result should be a clear warning to Connacht that this team cannot be taken lightly even without its internationals, and Carolan says the squad is preparing for an "extremely physical contest".

To this end Connacht's pack upped their intensity in Parc Y Scarlets in the second half, but Carolan says the eradication of inaccuracies and better decision making is key to a winning performance this week.

"We know scoring tries wins games, so we have to put ourselves in position to score more and we are confident. We know we can, we have a system set up that puts us in position to do that, but it comes down to accuracy, seeing the picture you want to see, and having the confidence to execute, and to do so under pressure," Carolan says.


Two backrow players, last year's player of the year Colby Fainga'a and Eoin McKeon, are sidelined after injuries in that Scarlets match. Fainga'a suffered a knee injury, but hopes are high it is restricted to ligament damage, while McKeon pulled a calf muscle. As a result Paul Boyle comes into the line-out, while Carolan says both Robin Copeland and Academy player Sean Masterson, brother of Eoghan, are available.

"Sean Masterson has been performing well with the Eagles and it's important to keep our eyes on the young guys as we need to integrate them into our squad as much as possible.

"It's a balance betwen consistent selection and having a team find form, and getting us up and running, but if someone is not performing, we have quality to replace them."

There is no shortage of second row quality, while the front row is also looking healthy despite the loss of Johne Murphy.

"Our pack is amazing," says Carolan. " If Quinn Roux is unlucky not to be at the World Cup, then Gavin Thornbury, if he's not there now, is definitely one for the future. He will definitely come into consideration for the Six Nations because he's so consistent, delivers on his role every single week, and he's a great asset to have on our side."

If Connacht's pack performed in the second half against Scarlets, the backline struggled to click, and Andy Friend may well make some changes for Saturday's fixture and give other players an opportunity.

"It was only the first and we are not panicking. We are creating opportunities, but with better decision making we can take advantage. It's a long road and that was the first hurdle, but it is important to bounce back and put things right against a physical Treviso side.

"We don't want to make wholesale changes, you want to develop momentum and consistency, but we have a competitive squad. If there are guys knocking on the door, we can't ignore it, and if guys don't perform, we know we have quality and will consider them as options."

Certainly Connacht will hope that Hurricane Lorenzo has abated as they struggled in the miserable conditions last weekend when their poor record at the Llanelli venue continued.

A poor opening half ultimately did the damage as the Scarlets led 12-3 at half time, and despite taking charge for long periods of the second half, Andy Friend's side was unable to record a first win at this Welsh venue.

Both sides displayed opening day rustiness before the deadlock was broken in the 20th minute when Scarlets capitalised after Connacht coughed up a penalty at the breakdown. A solid touch-finder from outhalf Dan Jones provided the home side with territorial control, and after a series of lateral thrusts at the line, eventually the league's 2016/17 top try scorer Steffan Evans wriggled through a tackle to touch down in the corner.

An increasing penalty count did not help Connacht's cause as the homeside continued to thwart a Connacht attack that lacked the necessary cutting edge, and minutes before the break Scarlets bagged their second try. Fullback Johnny McNicholl made the incisive break through the cover before Steffan Hughes sold a dummy and Paul Asquith finished off from 10 metres out.

Connacht's only first-half points came two minutes later when outhalf Conor Fitzgerald nailed a penalty to close the gap to 12-3 at the break. However, when centre Tom Daly was yellow carded within minutes of the restart, Jones stretched the lead to 15-3.

Hopes of a fightback were raised when a superior scrum provided Connacht with their best attacking platform, and after a series of penalties, the pack took charge. Eventually flanker Eoghan Masterson burrowed over in the 51st minute, and Fitzgerald's conversion kept Connacht in contention. However a mistake on the restart in the deteriorating weather allowed the Scarlets to quickly re-establish control through a Dan Jones penalty to ensure a first win under new coach Brad Mooar.

Connacht v Scarlets: T O'Halloran, S Fitzgerald, K Godwin, T Daly, N Healy, C Blade, P McAllister, T McCartney, F Bealham, G Thornbury, Q Roux, E Masterson, J Butler. Replacements, E McKeon for Faianga'a (35 ), D Buckley for McAllster (45 ), D Leader for Healy (46 ), K Marmion for Blade (50m ), U Dillane for McKeon (50 ), S Delahunt for McCartney and D Robertson-McCoy for Bealham (both 56 ), P Robb for Daly (65 ).


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