Connacht, boosted by two successive Magners League wins, head to Wales in search of a rare victory over the Ospreys at Liberty Stadium on Sunday (2.30pm ).
Having bagged nine points from their last two outings, Connacht have certainly stepped up a gear, and Connacht coach Eric Elwood is travelling intent on making it three from three.
“We are going there with the full intention of imposing our game on them. Yes, it will be difficult because it’s a difficult place to go to, and it will be physically demanding, but we are fully committed to winning the game,” he says.
“We have eight more games and we are going for it 100 per cent. It is not a case of resting personnel, it is all hands to the pump for the next eight weeks.”
It is hard to see Elwood making any unforced changes to the team. Sean Cronin, on the bench for Ireland against Scotland, is obviously a non-starter, so Adrian Flavin will slot into the front row. Keith Matthews is expected back to training this week, but lacking match fitness, it might be a game too soon for him to make the starting XV. There are also injury concerns to last weekend’s double try scorer Brian Tuohy and flanker Andrew Browne, while several players were ill this week and unable to train. However Elwood will be hoping all are passed fit for Sunday’s fixture.
The Ospreys have 10 players involved in Wales’ clash with Italy in the Six Nations, but the cash-rich Swansea outfit boasts a huge squad, as reflected in their current third-place position in the league table. They also have one of the strongest back rows that includes former All Blacks Jerry Collins and Marty Holah, who returns to action having missed last week's victory in Treviso with a rib injury.
The odds, as usual, are stacked against Connacht. They have not beaten the Ospreys in Swansea for six-and-a-half years, but games in the recent past have been considerably closer. Last year Connacht picked up their first away bonus point of the season, going down narrowly by 19 - 17, while this year they also lost by a single point, 16-15, at the Sportsground.
Certainly Elwood has been encouraged by the last two performances, although he is concerned with Connacht’s propensity to give ball away too cheaply.
“We now know if we play our brand of rugby, maintain possession and have confidence to hold onto the ball, we can ask questions of defences. Conversely we have to stop defending for long periods of time. Against Glasgow we got away with it, but you can’t go to the Ospreys and expect to give them all that ball and give away blank. It’s not going to happen, so it is an area we have to improve on.”
However Elwood had every reason to be “chuffed” with Connacht’s five try blitz and 37 - 8 victory over the Warriors, which saw them leapfrog the Scottish side on the table.
Despite a spirited first-half from the Warriors, Connacht wrapped up the contest within six minutes of the restart, posting two tries in quick succession to grab their first try bonus point since their opening day victory over the Dragons. And to cap the home side's growing dominance, referee Tim Hayes awarded the hosts a penalty try after the pack had their opponents in disarray with a series of convincing drives.
Connacht showed the greater enterprise in attack where Brian Tuohy scored a brace of tries, and Fionn Carr once again showed his blistering pace. His early second-half effort saw him overtake former winger and current Connacht analyst Conor McPhillips as Connacht's all-time record try scorer with 33.
Connacht held an 18 - 8 half time lead after a blistering start. Outhalf Ian Keatley tapped over one of two early penalties before right wing Brian Tuohy struck for the first try. However Connacht's failure throughout the opening half to deal with the restarts handed the visitors the initiative and they took advantage. Scrumhalf Colin Gregor was an influential figure for the Warriors and it was his quick tap penalty that paved the way for Hefin O'Hare’s 13th minute try. Keatley's well-executed grubber kick set up the in-rushing Gavin Duffy his side's second try, which Keatley converted, before both outhalves exchanged penalties.
Connacht v Glasgow: D Duffy, B Tuohy, N Ta'auso, T Nathan, F Carr, I Keatley, F Murphy, B Wilkinson, S Cronin, J Hagan, M Swift, McCarthy, A Browne, J O'Connor (cpt ), R Ofisa. Replacements, M McComish for Ofisa (47m ), R Ah You for Hagan (52m ), C Willis for Murphy (64m ), M Nikora for Keatley (65m ), A Flavin for Cronin and R Loughney for Wilkinson (both 68m ), S Monahan for Tupohy (72m ).