Struggling with a host of injuries, Connacht head to an inhospitable Firhill for their second successive away fixture, once again determined to get something from tomorrow evening’s clash with Glasgow (7pm ).
Coach Eric Elwood, while satisfied with the six-points return from their opening two matches, wants to continue that momentum, but given Connacht’s track record - they have not beaten Glasgow since their 2003 Hughenden 30 - 19 victory - he believes it will be a “roll your sleeves up night”.
Once again Connacht have been hit by a host of injuries - 15 this week - forcing training to be reduced. And in order to get his best XV out on the park, Elwood has tapered sessions to suit, particularly with the limited recovery time after Saturday’s heartbreaking injury-time loss to the Scarlets.
“Fifteen guys injured is a big heavy hit for us, so we are just going week to week, assessing our casualty bill,” he says.
Elwood will hope to name the same side that started against the Scarlets last week, but he has been forced to delay selection as a result of the injuries. There are still doubts over the fitness of Troy Nathan (shoulder ) and Ray Ofisa (neck ), but Bernie Upton, Miah Nikora, Jamie Hagan, and Niva Ta’auso are expected to be fit to start. Andrew Browne also returned to training this week and is likely to be named on the bench if Ofisa pulls through. Conor O’Loughlin, John Muldoon, Ezra Taylor, Robbie Morris, and Johnny O’Connor, who has returned to non-contact training, are not considered.
“Forwards-wise we are very thin. We are picking guys who are standing as we don’t have any options. We are looking elsewhere for cover, but there is nothing concrete yet.”
While the knocks and bruises are taking a toll, Elwood will not be holding back this week despite the impending visit of Ulster.
“We are aiming to pick our strongest team. We feel there are points to be got from the Glasgow game, and if we have to taper our sessions to field the best team, we will. It’s important for us. In certain positions we don’t have options, so it is important to give the guys a rest to enable them to play.
“Glasgow is always a tough place historically. They are battlers, a very physical team with a good set of forwards that compete at the breakdown. They work hard in defence and are very committed, so we will not get anything easy.”
However Connacht go into the match boosted by their two previous performances, although knowing they left the win behind them against the Scarlets.
Three points up, Connacht looked to have done enough to claim their second scalp, but having kept the chasing Scarlets at bay for seven minutes of injury time, Scottish international Sean Lamont swept over the line.
Outhalf Ian Keatley enjoyed an unblemished kicking record, and in trying to transform last season's woeful away record that included a 58 - 10 loss at the same venue, they did lay some ghosts to rest.
“We have made progress and, if you look at league table, and we are not getting carried away, there is a lot of good stuff there. There are six points, third in the table, we have scored 70-odd points and seven tries. There are a lot of positives, our points differential is in the plus, and that’s why we are taking it step by step - setting performance goals. If we do that week by week, then hopefully it will ultimately get us to where we want to be.”
More accuracy in defensive kicking and a little more smarter rugby in the final frantic final minutes of injury time could have yielded that win. Connacht also suffered another two sin-binnings - both proved costly with the Scarlets taking advantage with tries during that period.
Connacht, however, coped with the yellow-cards, scored three tries - all from left wing Fionn Carr (his first hat-trick ) - and took a 33 - 30 lead on 75 minutes.
The Scarlets had created numerous chances through several line breaks, but ultimately they failed to finish off. Keatley posted two early penalties before the home side replied with a 22m penalty from outhalf Stephen Jones, making his return to the Scarlets, and within a minute lock Johnny Fa'amatuainui made the initial break with Regan King supplying Davis for the opening try on 24 minutes. Jones added the conversion and a 27th minute penalty, but Connacht responded with one of the best tries of the day. Created from the re-start which fullback Gavin Duffy caught, Connacht kept the ball in hand with Jamie Hagan and Ian Keatley making further gains. Some quick hands from No 8 Mike McComish and Keith Matthews found Carr who raced in from 10m out to level the scores at 13 - 13.
Frank Murphy 's yellow for a crude tackle on Andy Fenby led to Regan King's 43rd minute try to give them a 20 - 13 half time lead, but Carr scored the perfect opportunist try when poaching possession and racing in from 60m to level matters again. Although Connacht edged ahead when Carr danced through the cover after Troy Nathan broke through from a superb Willis pass, they could not shake off the home side which, capitalising on Loughney's transgression at ruck time, added their third through Davies.
Connacht looked to have wrapped up the points - their first away victory in two and a half years - when two minutes later Keatley struck a 40m kick for a 33 - 30 lead, but the Scarlets snatched it at the death.
Connacht XV (possible, pending injuries ) v Glasgow: G Duffy, T Nathan, N Ta’auso, K Matthews, F Carr, I Keatley, F Murphy, B Wilkinson, S Cronin, J Hagan, M Swift, B Upton, M McCarthy, R Ofisa, M McComish. Replacements from: R Loughney, A Flavin, R Sweeney, S Conneely, D Nolan, C Willis, M Nikora, T OHalloran, A Wynne, D Fanning.