Connacht's recent winning form will be tested to the hilt when they face PRO14 in-conference leaders Edinburgh tomorrow evening in Murrayfield (7.35pm ).
It is the second game in a block of three Connacht have targeted to win, but also probably the toughest. Edinburgh are leading Conference B with 38 points - eight ahead of Connacht. After undisputed PRO14 favourites Leinster, unbeaten with 11 wins, Edinburgh have the best stats - eight wins, three losing bonus points, and the second best points difference 128. That compares to Leinster with +251 and Connacht with -10.
Yet Connacht head to the Scottish capital with a lilt in their step, having finally ended a run of defeats, which was not necessarily reflective of their performances, but the quality of opposition. Edinburgh, however, are no different, but Connacht will still have confidence that they can match the home side, shorn of some key internationals, in all areas.
Connacht will also be missing some key players, notably centre Bundee Aki (Ireland duty ), Quinn Roux (hand injury ), and Tom McCartney (continuing hip problem ), and although Connacht requested the return of both hooker Dave Heffernan and Ultan Dillane, in particular, due to more injuries to their second row players, it appeared unlikely.
With Roux out of action since Christmas, and now Gavin Thornbury likely sidelined with a calf injury, it leaves former Leicester Academy product Joe Maksymiw and Connacht Academy lock Niall Murray, who was handed his first start last month against Leinster, to form a new partnership to face the Conference B leaders, with backrow player Eoghan Masterson as cover.
"We are waiting on the status of two internationals," says backs coach Nigel Carolan. "Being a Sunday game makes it more tricky, but we have put in a request, particularly for Ultan, with Quinn being injured, and we are waiting for a review of Gavin."
Also unlikely to travel is Matt Healy, having been sidelined with illness, but Colby Fainga'a, who left the pitch against Edinburgh, is fit to play.
Carolan says Connacht cannot afford to get carried away after walloping Cardiff.
"It's a good start for us in that we are looking at this as a block of three, and we know our whole season pivots on these three games," Carolan says.
"The game against Cardiff was hugely important in that we stopped the rot. There was a bit of a slide - five extremely difficult games, with three inter-pros and then two European matches against huge French teams. We needed to stop that slide and we did that, so we are pleased about it, but not overly excited and not running away with ourselves.
"We weren't perfect, but we won with a bonus point and kept a clean sheet, but going to Edinburgh is a huge battle. Yes, they are missing a few internationals, but they have quality depth, and they are a different animal this year than previous years. We understand that. We will need to better than we were against Cardiff."
Last weekend's 29-0 was crucial in arresting a five-game losing run, creating some distance between themselves and Cardiff, while also keeping their in-conference opponents scoreless.
Luckily the game was played when Storm Dennis took respite, but Connacht, with outhalf Jack Carty in control, dominated the opening half to put his side on the front foot.
By the 20th minute, Cardiff had secured four turnovers - Connacht's major area of concern at the breakdown - thanks in the main to Ollie Robinson, but otherwise Connacht had ruled the roost. There were metres made by the back three led by Tiernan O'Halloran a key contributor, hooker and Man of the Match Dave Heffernan, who did his Ireland hopes no harm, captain Jarrad Butler and flanker Colby Faianga'a, Kyle Godwin was impressive in midfield, while Gavin Thornbury and Ultan Dillane continued to raid Cardiff's line-out. Their combined efforts led to the opening try as Heffernan secured the wayward ball and pounced for the opening try.
OIt was a deserved reward for Connacht's early dominance, which also included a Carty penalty. Another line-out steal provided the platform for the second try and after several phases centre Peter Robb touched down in the corner from Carty's neat chip for a 15-0 half-time lead. Two second-half tries - a John Porch effort, after a superb dash from Denis Buckley - and a try to the hard-working Godwin in the 58th minute, completed the rout.
It as a win Connacht needed, said Connacht coach Andy Friend. "We've had a really tough period, but I felt like we had got out of it with the performances against Toulouse and Montpellier, but they were not wins. So to turn that into a winning performance, we are on track again which is good."
Connacht now are in better health, mentally and physically, as they head to Edinburgh, leaders of Conference B. But it will be tough, and Nigel Carolan believes Edinburgh have never been as strong as they are under coach Richard Cockerill.
"They are going through a bit of an evolution. Richard Cockerill has instilled a lot of physicality and doggedness into them. This year they are playing a lot more rugby, they are more ambitous than they have been in previous years, and it has shown where they are in the league.
"They will be extremely difficult to break down at home. We will need to be very clincial, very accurate, have patience, and be ruthless when we get an opportunity."
CONNACHT: T O’Halloran; J Porch, K Godwin, P Robb , M Healy; J Carty,K Marmion; P McAllister, D Heffernan, F Bealham; U Dillane, GThornbury; P Boyle, CFainga’a, J Butler. Replacements: J Maksymiw for Thornbury (34 ), D Buckley for McAllister(49 ), C Blade for Marmion and D Robertson-McCoy for Bealham (57 ), T Daly for Robb (59 ), S Delahunt for Heffernan (61 ), C Fitzgerald for Carty and E McKeon for Boyle (64 ),