Connacht’s defence will be a top priority against Edinburgh

Connacht’s Johnny O’Connor, supported by Brett Wilkinson, will be two key players for the province when they face Edinburgh tomorrow evening in Murrayfield.
Photo: Mike Shaughnessy.

Connacht’s Johnny O’Connor, supported by Brett Wilkinson, will be two key players for the province when they face Edinburgh tomorrow evening in Murrayfield. Photo: Mike Shaughnessy.

Connacht head to the Scottish capital for a difficult assignment against an Edinburgh side that last year posted its biggest seasonal victory against the visitors.

Connacht’s poor record in Edinburgh is illustrated by a single win in 2005 when current coach Eric Elwood kicked 11 of his side’s points. However Elwood is hoping his side can change that statistic when they meet in Murrayfield this evening (7.05pm ), knowing it will take a huge effort, particularly in defence.

“Edinburgh are a good side, the style of rugby they play will ask questions. They are very strong at home, they play a wide expansive game and they will test us all over the park,” he says.

“It’s always a tough place to go and we made the lads aware of our record there. We did not have a good outing last year, but that is the challenge. We went to Glasgow and performed after a previous week’s disappointment, but this is going to be a bigger challenge because they are very strong.”

The biggest headache for Elwood is his team selection with a number of injuries which have prevented him naming his side until today.

Gavin Duffy, unfortunate to miss out on playing for Ireland against Argentina with Geordan Murphy recalled, remains a question mark as a result of a cut over his eye, while there are also doubts over the availability of Fionn Carr (leg ), Michael Swift (eye ), Miah Nikora (calf ), and Keith Matthews (knock ). Adrian Flavin, Dave Nolan, Conor O’Loughlin and Niva Ta’auso (both back in non-contact training ), Ray Ofisa and Tiernan O’Halloran are ruled out, while Sean Cronin remains on Irish duty with Dermot Murphy the only specialist hooker available.

Murphy played for the majority of last week’s fixture against the Ospreys before being replaced by prop Ronan Loughney who took over the line-out throwing duties, and Elwood will have to continue with that pattern tomorrow evening.

The number one priority for Connacht tomorrow will be defence, which Elwood says will have to be at its best against an Edinburgh side that can attack anywhere on the park.

“We all know how Edinburgh play so it’s important we have a strong work ethic in defence. You can’t leave any gaps and overcommit too much to the breakdown because they’ll expose it. So we have to fill the park with numbers and make sure the tackles hit and stick.”

Last weekend’s “bitter disappointment” in losing to Ospreys after leading for 76 minutes was another occasion Connacht failed to close out a game and Elwood said “harsh words” were exchanged at this week’s meetings.

“When you are six points up with a couple of minutes to go, you’d like to think you would be able to close it out. We are doing a lot of good work - 90 to 95 percent, but it’s the final five per cent that is the winning or losing of rugby matches. We know the three games we lost the points in, but our challenge now is to push on, learn from our mistakes, and hope they don’t happen again.

“We are close and we have to acknowledge the good work we are doing, but if we want to get where we want to go, then that five to 10 per cent is important to us.”

Connacht were denied third home win of the Magners League season when the Ospreys struck for a match-winning try in the 78th minute to post a 16 - 15 win.

And although Connacht had the opportunity to snatch the victory at the death, outhalf Miah Nikora's touchline penalty kick dipped under the crossbar.

Until that last minute try, Connacht had held a 15 - 9 lead despite losing Bernie Upton to the sin-bin and an unfavourable penalty count. But they rediscovered some urgency and aggression at the breakdown to force the pace, and were rewarded with two crucial penalties in quick succession.

With both sides level 9 - 9 after a Matthew Morgan drop goal on 60 minutes, Troy Nathan instigated the first penalty with a break out of defence from turnover ball, and when Marty Holah was pinged at the breakdown, Nikora converted from the 22. Minutes later, man of the match Michael Swift barged down the right wing from the drop-out, and Connacht, with some quick recycling grabbed the opportunity to extend the lead.

However Connacht failed to close out the game and the Ospreys, needing seven points to win, took a final penalty opportunity to kick for touch. Although they found no way through their forwards, some slick handing saw replacement fullback Barry Davies who strode through from 10m out.

Connacht v Ospreys: G Duffy, T Nathan, E Griffin, K Matthews, F Carr, M Nikora, F Murphy, B Wilkinson, D Murphy, J Hagan, M Swift, B Upton, M McCarthy, J O'Connor, J Muldoon (cpt ). Replacements, I Keatley for Matthews (HT ), B Fa'amausili for Hagan (51 ), E Taylor for Upton (60 ), R Loughney for Murphy (64 ), A Browne for Muldoon (62 ), D Fanning for Carr (66 ).


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