Connacht have a real opportuity to overtake Glasgow in the Magners League table if they can achieve the necessary victory when the two sides meet tomorrow at the Galway Sportsground (7pm ).
Coach Eric Elwood is hoping their 17 - 14 victory over the Scarlets last weekend will propel his Connacht side into climbing out of their accustomed position at the bottom of the league table, particularly if they can maintain that momentum when they host tomorrow night’s opponents. And with both sides level on the league table with 21 points, there is much to play for.
“We want to build on the momentum from last week and the good victory we achieved over the Scarlets,” Elwood says. “ Obviously there is history between us - we beat them over there this season and they will come smarting from their defeat last week. Where we both are in the league table suggests this is a potential eight pointer.”
Elwood expects an “interesting” contest, but one of which his side will hopefully come out on the right side, particularly with Connacht enjoying home advantage. Connacht have not lost at home to the Warriors since the 2006/7 season.
Elwood can expect to welcome back Sean Cronin from Declan Kidney’s squad to ensure the replacement Irish hooker gets some game time, but Elwood will not be making too many changes to the side that prevailed last weekend. Although unhappy with the team’s first-half performance, he will hope they can maintain the pace and aggression they displayed in the second half which sealed a worthy victory.
That win represented Connacht’s first league win since overcoming Glasgow in September, and now Elwood wants his side to push on.
"We knew how important it was after the break to get off to a good footing, but now we have to back it up tomorrow," Elwood says.
Although the Scarlets were missing eight internationals, and Connacht were a little "rusty" after a three weeks' break, it was Connacht's second-half doggedness that was ultimately rewarded as outhalf Ian Keatley capitalised with three penalties to swing the contest in the home side's favor.
"We were disappointed with the way we played in the first half, yet we led 8 - 3, but I thought the second half performance was excellent considering they gave away an early score. In fairness to the guys they showed great character again. They stuck to it, carried the ball well, the substitutes made an impact, and they exerted pressure. We made a conscious effort to carry the ball and stay on our feet and we got the just rewards.
Not the most fluent of matches in the wet and windy conditions, each side scored only one try. Connacht opened their tally in the 14th minute after No 8 Mike McComish fed Frank Murphy from the ruck, and the scrumhalf looped with Keatley before finishing off in the right corner. However within five minutes the Scarlets' outhalf Dan Newton had fired over a 19th minute effort after Connacht conceded a series of penalties at the breakdown. With both packs involved in a war of attrition, it was Frank Murphy who provided the spark when his harassing was rewarded with a penalty which Keatley slotted on the stroke of half time.
Connacht were stung immediately after the restart from turnover ball when centre Regan King set up winger Gareth Maule for the visitors' only try. Although Newton's conversion gave the Scarlets the lead for the first time, Connacht regained control for long periods, carving out several opportunities. Crucially the home side, led by Johnny O'Connor, retained possession, while the pack started to win the battle at the breakdown. The sustained pressure was rewarded with a sin-binning to centre Scott Williams, and Keatley's success with three of four penalty kicks.
Having broken the sequence of losses, that has included six losing bonus points, Elwood believes the time is ripe for maintaining the momentum, particularly with five home matches remaining this season.
" This win was very important," said Elwood. " It's OK patting yourself on the back saying 'another moral victory, another losing bonus point, we are making improvements' - yes, we are, but the game is about winning and that's why this win is so important, but now we want to push on from here."