Connacht are back in the Galway Sportsground tomorrow evening (6.30pm ) in a return to Magners League action and a crucial home tie with visitors Edinburgh.
Having posted two successive league wins at home, Connacht need to maintain their momentum in a competition that is looking increasingly like the best route for their hopes of playing Heineken Cup rugby. And tonight's match is certainly one of those games that can propel Connacht towards realising that ambition.
Connacht coach Michael Bradley will certainly have targeted this match, but his squad is coming off the back of a series of tough matches that begun with their victory over Leinster. Similarly Edinburgh, also with a tally of eight points and just above Ulster, will have targeted the Sportsground as the venue they can distance themselves from the two Irish provinces.
Edinburgh have not enjoyed a profitable start to the league this year, winning just one of their last five games – a 32-15 victory over the Scarlets at Murrayfield. As a result they are under pressure to pick up points. But they travel to Galway on the back of a significant 13 – 6 victory in Castres last weekend - their first ever cup triumph on French soil. Coming on the back of a disappointing result against Leinster, that victory will certainly have boosted morale in Andy Robinson's squad.
As always Edinburgh can pose a real threat to any side, particularly with the in-form scrumhalf Mike Blair pulling the strings behind the scrum, with pacey three-quarters in last week's try scorer Mark Robertson, Simon Webster, Nick de Luca, and Ben Blair.
Once again Connacht will need to be well organised in their defence, particularly when Edinburgh are on the counter-attack. They can be expected to try to bring Webster and Robertson into play as much as possible to test Connacht out wide.
Bradley has not named his side yet, but a couple of players are nursing injuries, including flanker Ray Ofisa who formed an impressive backrow with Johnny O’Connor and captain John Muldoon. If fit, he can be expected to start, with Colm Rigney on the bench. If Rigney returns at No 8, necessitating a return to the blindside for Muldoon, it is possible David Gannon, who has yet to start this season, could join Andrew Browne on the bench as cover.
Also up front Bradley could opt to rotate his front row players. Brett Wilkinson could well be rested after a tough few weeks, with a possible start for John Lyne, while Sean Cronin is likely to return to the front row with Flavin dropping to the bench.
In the backs Mike Roberts (calf ), Keith Matthews (calf ), and Liam Bibo (hamstring ) are ruled out, but Connacht do welcome back Mel Deane who is likely to form the centre partnership with Gavin Duffy, named in Declan Kidney’s Irish squad this week. As a result Aidan Wynne would move to the wing.
Once again Connacht will need to be well organised in their defence, particularly when Edinburgh are on the counter-attack, and with the side struggling with injuries on the wing, this is a huge task for the three-quarters.
However Connacht boast a good record against this side at the Sportsground – having held Edinburgh to two draws in their last two meetings. They need to go one further this year and capitalise on the growing support base that rose to more than 4,000 last week against London Irish.
"The crowd were superb against London Irish and I hope they come out in force this Friday as we need every assistance as we try to beat Edinburgh," says Michael Bradley. "This is a huge game for us."
These are the types of games Connacht must win in order to prove their Heineken Cup credentials.
Connacht (possible ):
F Carr, A Wynne, G Duffy, M Deane, J Hearty, I Keatley, F Murphy, J Lyne, S Cronin, R Morris, M Swift, A Farley, R Ofisa/C Rigney, J O’Connor, J Muldoon (cpt ). Replacements, A Flavin, R Loughney, A Browne, D Gannon/C Rigney, K Campbell, A Dunne, D Riordan/T Nathan.