Connacht need a remarkable turnaround in fortunes when they host Cardiff at the Galway Sportsground tomorrow (7pm ).
Following their 62 - 13 defeat to Edinburgh at Murrayfield, Connacht need to knuckle down and produce a performance of which they believe they are capable - and one which the fans demand. And while coach Michael Bradley admits last week’s performance was “embarrassing”, he believes the supporters can help Connacht get their season back on track.
“It is a big day for us,” says Bradley. “ The more people in, the more pressure we can put on our opponents . It’s easy to support a winning side - we are not that at the moment - so we are looking for support for the match against Cardiff.”
Connacht have traditionally “bounced” back from such defeats, particularly at home in the Sportsground, but Bradley says it is not good enough any more.
“What we want is consistency. We bounced back last year, but we cannot keep doing that. This league is tougher than last year with top-four points up for grabs, and Cardiff are coming here, having lost by a point to Munster last week. That means they have lost their first two matches so if they are going to qualify, they will come very strong to the Sportsground.
“We are looking forward to putting last week’s result behind us. Last year we went well against them, had a great opportunity to win, but didn’t do it.”
With both sides “under pressure to perform so early in the season”, neither coach will take chances with selection.
Cardiff have named Lions star Jamie Roberts in a starting XV that boasts 13 capped internationals, and coaching director David Young says they are travelling to “get the win under our belt” before they face Llanelli at home.
“We start with Connacht, who are a difficult team for any side to face at the Sportsground, but I feel we have enough quality to win. However, we have to make sure we match that quality with the desire, hunger, and accuracy to get the right result.”
Bradley will be hoping his two first-choice props Brett Wilkinson and Robbie Morris are fit enough to start in what is expected to be an otherwise unchanged forward pack. And with Niva Ta’auso out for a likely three to four weeks, Bradley’s options in midfield are limited. It is expected he will continue with Troy Nathan and Keith Matthews in the centre with Gavin Duffy remaining in his preferred fullback position. However, one change in the backs is possible with Miah Nikora likely to get his first Magners League start. Ian Keatley has started both matches, but Nikora did well when he came on as a replacement against Edinburgh, and Bradley may decide to give him a first start against Cardiff.
Whatever the final selection, Connacht need to re-establish their credibility. If Connacht can sharpen their attack, keep their defensive lines intact, continue to win the set piece, and maintain their hunger at the breakdown, they will live with Cardiff. However with two sinbinnings in their previous two outings, discipline will also be crucial. Admittedly Edinburgh are a dangerous side, particularly at home, but Bradley says Connacht struggled with Edinburgh’s tempo in the second half during which they were “blown off the park”.
It had looked different at half time in Murrayfield. Although Connacht were 20 - 6 behind, they had started brightly, earning five penalties on the trot with some aggressive rucking, forcing referee James Jones to sinbin flanker Alan MacDonald. But they failed to capitalise, and within a minute Edinburgh struck with a superb try, showing their pace out wide. From a line-out off the top, right wing Robertson split the crowded midfield and raced clear. Keatley struck a difficult sideline kick superbly to narrow the gap to 7 - 6 on 11 minutes but once again Connacht coughed up possession in attack, and two kicks down field saw Ben Cairns win the touch against the run of play.
It proved the turning point in the game as the tries came thick and fast in the second half with Paterson striking within five minutes. Connacht then suffered two sinbinnings for the second week in succession - first John Muldoon and then replacement Mike McCarthy. Edinburgh turned the screw, added another five second-half tries with Paterson converting 22 points from his boot.
It is a game Connacht need to put behind them as quickly as possible - starting tomorrow night.
Connacht (possible ) v Edinburgh: G Duffy, B Tuohy, T Nathan, K Matthews, F Carr, M Nikora, F Murphy, B Wilkinson, S Cronin, R Morris, A Browne, B Upton, J Muldoon (cpt ), R Ofisa, M McComish.
Cardiff: B Blair, L Halfpenny, G Thomas, J Roberts, C Czekaj, CSweeney, R Rees, J Yapp, G Williams, T Filise, B Davies, P Tito (cpt ), M Molitika, S Warburton, X Rush.