Connacht will need to be the team on fire when they host their first fixture on a St Patrick’s Day (6.30pm ) against the in-form Newport Gwent Dragons.
This fixture, postponed from January, will see the Dragons arrive in Galway intent on closing the five-point gap on the Magners League leaders to secure a play-off place. They travel with a huge confidence, having defeated champions Munster last weekend by 31-22 which put them within touching distance of the top four.
That ensures Connacht will need to be at their most competitive best after a poor first-half showing against Glasgow. And with four home games remaining, Connacht need to stoke their fire before the crucial Amlin Cup quarter-final clash with Bourgoin next month - a game that could well define Connacht’s season.
Connacht’s defence will be alert to the danger of Dragons’ scoring threat Aled Brew, who scored a solo try against Munster, while outhalf Jason Tovey scored another 16 points to take his total to 71 in four games. Wing Aled Brew is now joint second in the league try-scoring list with five, while Tovey is second best kicker in the league behind Chris Paterson with an 84.21 success rate ahead of rivals Jonathan Sexton and Dan Parks. Tovey will punish any mistakes and it will be important Connacht get on the right side of the referee.
Last weekend against Cardiff, Connacht struggled in the opening half to deal with referee James Jones’ decision-making, particularly at the breakdown. The penalty count could have proved more costly, but it certainly denied Connacht a platform in the opening 40 minutes. However a second-half revival ensured the home side got something from the match, although the 19-19 draw was hardly satisfactory for either side.
Glasgow had travelled looking to consolidate their position in the top four, while Connacht failed to take advantage of a Warriors outfit shorn of some 10 front-line players on international duty.
Connacht, having fought their way back into contention and taken a 70th minute lead, failed to put the game away, conceding a try at the death. Ultimately they could consider themselves lucky. Had replacement outhalf Colin Gregor converted Eddie James' effort at the death, it would been a truly dispiriting day for the home side.
Referee Jones played a major role with 15 penalties awarded in the opening half - six to the visitors in the opening 26 minutes as Connacht continually pinged at the breakdown, and struggled to build momentum when they did get their hands on the ball. Nor did they help themselves with an erratic line-out and unforced errors. With a Warriors side that continued to test the offside rule, they finally conceded a kickable penalty which Keatley struck from 35 m out after 23 minutes.
Glasgow, with a solid line-out, enjoyed the majority of possession . No 8 Richie Vernon impressed, but their attacks lacked potency and Connacht's defence was well able for anything the visitors could throw at them. They, too, were forced to rely on outhalf Ruaridh Jackson for their scores, opening with a 12th minute effort and a second 14 minutes later.
It did not get any better for the home side after the break. George Naoupu's knock-on directly from the kick-off handed Glasgow the initiative and Jackson extended the lead,and he should have added a fourth just two minutes later when Mike McCarthy was sinbinned.
There were few moments for the home support to cheer. Fionn Carr provided some hope but his double kick was touched down by Van deer Merwe, but when the Canadian international got through the cover on the left wing, it looked all over for the home side.
Amazingly they fought their way back with a Keatley penalty after 51 minutes and, had Keith Matthews spotted Carr in support after a superb break through the middle, the recovery would have come earlier. The reward, however, was a third Keatley penalty before Gavin Duffy finished off a strong forward surge with a 70th minute try. The Irish A fullback did well to weave through the cover to touch down under the posts, and Keatley's conversion put them in front for the first time.
With the Warriors flanker Calum Forrester sinbinned, Connacht, holding the initiative, should have closed out the game. Instead they opted for a 77th minute penalty kick which Keatley converted, but once again from the kick-off Glasgow produced a final attack with James crossing in the left corner. It was scant reward for either side.
Yellow Cards: M McCarthy 42m; Glasgow, C Forrester 75m.
Connacht: G Duffy, T Nathan, K Matthews, A Wynne, F Carr, I Keatley, F Murphy, B Wilkinson, S Cronin, R Morris, M Swift, M McCarthy, J Muldoon (cpt ), J O'Connor, G Naoupu. Replacements, R Morris for Hagan (ht ) B Upton for Swift (57m ), M McComish for O'Connor (60m ).
Glasgow: B Stortoni, C Shaw, P Murchie, P Horne, DTH Van der Merwe, R Jackson, M McMillian (cpt ), J Welsh, D Hall, E Kalman, T Barker, D Turner, E James, C Forrester, R Vernon. Replacements, R Gray for T Barker and K Tkachuk for Kalman (both 52m ), C Gregor for Jackson and H O'Hare for Van der Merwe (both 64m ).