Connacht coach Eric Elwood and his management team are challenging Connacht to raise the bar again when they host the Scarlets in their first home match of the RaboDirect Pro 12 on Saturday (3.15pm ).
With 3,000 season tickets already sold, and buoyed by Connacht’s hard-fought win over Treviso in last weekend's opener, Elwood says it is important his team builds on that momentum, particularly for this first home fixture.
“We are very much driven this year to push on from last year, so it is one game down and 20 game to go. Treviso is behind us and now it is all systems go for Scarlets. This is our first home match, there is pressure on the boys - on all of us - but that’s what we thrive on and all that matters is four points.”
Elwood says his team is not getting carried away by last weekend's victory, but believes the supporters appreciate the value of a win in Treviso.
"People realise how hard it is to get a win in Treviso and, given the conditions with temperatures in the mid thirties, we deserved the victory. People will now come on Saturday expecting another big performance and even another win, and it's up to us to deliver it."
Elwood is unlikely to make any changes to his starting XV, but will welcome the return of prop Brett Wilkinson on the replacement benches. Wilkinson’s return from injury will be a big boost for the front row which will once again be tested against a Scarlets outfit that destroyed Aironi last week.
“Their firepower up front won the game for them last week,” says Elwood, “ and once again we have to compete in the physicality stakes. In addition they have quality in their backs, a lot of young players coming through, so they have strength in depth. We know they are a quality outfit, they always have been, and the brand of rugby they play will test any team around the park.”
Scarlets, as always, have title aspirations, traditionally battling for a top four finish, but, like Treviso, they will be missing a handful of World Cup players. However last week’s victory over Aironi gives a clear indication of their experience and strength, with young outhalf Dan Newton kicking 19 of their points in that 32-9 win.
Elwood, however, says Connacht are a match for any team, and he hopes the 3,000 season ticket holders make it their business to attend Saturday’s first home fixture.
"We are looking at one of the biggest crowds and that contributes to the match day experience, which puts pressure on the opposition, the referee, and certainly gives the team the lift when they need it.
"We have a unique place here, albeit there are changes taking place, but teams do not like coming here and we have to make it uncomfortable for any opposition. We may not be able to control the weather, but we need to make the Sportsground our fortress and we can do that by how we play and by our support.
" It is about building something. I believe it is something that is bubbling, that should have been bubbling for a long time. It has now started, and we have to play our part which is to give 100 per cent commitment and performance every week and hopefully that will end up in results.”
At the heart of last weekend’s victory in Italy was a defensive effort that kept Treviso from sneaking a win when Connacht held a slender 11 - 9 lead. Despite an early penalty from Treviso, Connacht’s new young outhalf Matthew Jarvis slotted a 28th minute effort, and the former Wales u-20 player contributed to the game’s only try when Rodney Ah You barged over the line, while also adding a super penalty early in the second half.
As Treviso upped the pressure and edged closer with two Willem de Waal penalties, Connacht were forced to withstand 10 minutes of Treviso pressure, and defence coach Mike Forshaw says Connacht will need to continue to build that momentum this week.
“We hit the ground running with our defence at the weekend. It is great to win and not to concede any tries, but our involvement in defence will be 20 to 30 per cent higher this week. Scarlets have big forwards and it’s a different challenge this week, so it is about raising the bar.”