Connacht return to the Galway Sportsground needing to utilise home advantage, and for the first time this season put two victories back-to-back.
That will be the challenge for Andy Friend's squad as they host Welsh outfit Ospreys in Saturday's PRO14 cross-conference outing at 7.35pm.
The lack of consistency in their performances must be frustrating the Connacht management as their current tally of wins has always been followed by a loss. That needs to change to help Connacht gain greater momentum, particularly with their postponed round six fixture against Benetton taking place the following Friday. Three successive wins would be a big boost to put them within striking distance of leaders Munster, who are unbeaten to date.
It is a scenario well within Connacht's grasp, and understandably Friend insists Connacht will need to make a strong start. Against Zebre they conceded a try within a minute, and the last thing they want to do on Saturday is to give the visiting Welsh hope and momentum as they did against Scarlets in the Sportsground two weeks ago.
Scarlets, on that occasion, were loud in support of each on the pitch, and Friend says it is important, without a home crowd, that his players produce their own energy.
"We saw in Italy there was constant talking and you want that. It's about that becoming the new habit because we don't have the people in the Sportground. Certainly the crowd here does lift the players, but we all know it's not going to be here and we can't use it as an excuse. So we have make our own energy, make sure we reward and celebrate every little victory we have, and if we do make errors, we back each other up. That's in our control and hopefully we are better at it this Saturday."
Farrell and Papali'i
They will be without Tom Farrell for at least six weeks with a knee injury, while Abraham Papali'i goes before a hearing today after his red-carded in Italy.
Friend is fully backing his player who was sent off after a clash of heads with Zebre's Tommaso Boni. It is the second red card the New Zealand-born former rugby league star has received this season, having been sent off when making his debut against Munster earlier in the season.
However Connacht, through manager Tim Allnutt and solicitor Barry Gavin, will be appealing that decision today, and Friend hopes "common sense prevails and it’s thrown out".
The 27-years-old Aucklander, whose wife is currently in New Zealand, was "really down in the dumps" as a result.
"It's not easy for him, but at the same time he is in this job knowing this job's is not easy, and there are big sacrifices. But it's important for people out there to understand he's a human being. He didn't mean to do what he did, he's a long way from home, he has a lot of things on his plate, and we are here to support him and work through the tackle stuff with him," says Friend.
“All of a sudden you’ve got Abraham Papali’i – played four games for Connacht and two red cards. That doesn’t look good for that young man and he’s trying to build a career over here in Europe and before you know it, he becomes known as ‘the red card bloke.’ I just don’t think that’s fair and we want to make sure we get a fair hearing with that."
Friend says the former rugby league player has been working on his tackle technique since arriving in Galway.
“We’re working really hard with him to drop that body height. He’s a big man anyway and those things take a while, but with this one, you could see he was just trying to come forward and grab him. The Zebre player is allowed to do what he chooses to, and step and all the rest of it, but he certainly wasn’t trying to hit him with his head."
It detracted from Connacht's seven try haul as they overpowered Zebre at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi yesterday in a game that marked Ultan Dillane's 100th cap, and the return of backrow Sean O'Brien from a long term injury. Former Garbally scrumhalf Colm Reilly produced a man of the match display, while Sean Masterson produced a solid performance in his first 80m game for Connacht.
After being caught by centre Tommaso Boni who exploited a gap in defence to score a try within the opening minute, Conancht took control of territory and possession - Jack Carty potting two penalties before the opening try on 21minutes. Carty's kick to the corner provided the platform, and flanker Sean O'Brien claimed the touchdown to put his side into the lead which they never relinquished. Before the break left wing Alex Wootton bagged his brace, the first following scrumhalf Colm O'Reilly's impressive 30 metre break, and the second when he went end to end from an intercept for a 7-23 lead. Sam Arnold scored the fourth try within minutes of the second half, and there was no way back for the Italian side as Tom Daly added two more tries, and a penalty try completed the scoring.
Connacht: J Porch, S Arnold, T Farrell, T Daly, A Wootton, J Carty, C Reilly, D Buckley, S Delahunt, J Aungier, E Masterson, G Thornbury, S O’Brien, S Masterson, J Butler (C ).Replacements: U Dillane for Thornbury (44 ), J Murphy for Delahunt (47 ), P McAllister for Buckley (56 ), D Robertson-McCoy for Aungier, U Dillane for Thornbury (44 ), A Papali’i for O'Brien (50m ), Peter Sullivan for Wootton (53 ), Kerins for Reilly (59 ), C Fitzgerald for Carty (59 ), P Sullivan for Wootton (53 ).