Connacht return to the Galway Sportsground tomorrow evening (7.30pm ) determined to make up for last weekend’s narrow loss to Edinburgh.
Having played most of the rugby last weekend, Connacht know they let themselves down when failing to take advantage of their opportunities, and coach Eric Elwood says discipline will be the key tomorrow.
“What killed us last weekend was our discipline, the penalty count at one stage was 10 to two. But the best thing about league rugby is you can put it right the following week with four points,” said Elwood. “I think the lads know they didn’t do themselves justice last week so we’re expecting a big performance this week from everybody. We can’t change results, but we can change how we play on Friday.”
However Connacht must do it without influential No 8 George Naoupu whose damaged medial ligament will see him sidelined for a minumum of four weeks, and possibly four months depending on scan results. Both Rodney Ah You and Ethienne Reynecke also suffered knee injuries, but are expected to be named in the squad. It is likely Ray Ofisa will take over at No 8, with Johnny O’Connor at openside.
"George is a big loss for us. He is an important part of our team. Not only is he a leader, but he is one of our big ball carriers and a presence. He will be a huge loss, but we will have to readjust the squad accordingly."
Connacht had hoped to have outhalf Miah Nikora back in contention, but having recovered from an ankle injury, the New Zealander has now suffered a stress fracture to his lower leg and is expected to be out for another month.
Some good news is that new signing Eoghan Grace played his first match with club side Buccaneers at the weekend.
Connacht’s proud home record will be tested by the visiting Dragons, but once again a big crowd is expected in support with season ticket sales having passed the 3,000 mark. Connacht with nine points from their opening three games, need to get back to winning ways quickly.
“We’re disappointed we lost our momentum,” says Elwood. “We thought Edinburgh was a winnable game for us, but we have to be able to bounce back. The fact that it’s a home game should make it extra special. We pride ourselves on making it difficult for teams that come here and this is a must-win game, we just have to get those four points on Friday.
“We had hard words in our meeting this week, and the lads applied themselves well in training, so hopefully we can transfer that to the pitch tomorrow.”
Elwood is still looking to bring more physicality and directness to Connacht’s game, and despite dominating the opening 20 minutes against Edinburgh, they had nothing to show on the scoreboard. It had taken a super tackle from Tim Visser to bundle Tiernan O'Halloran into touch just yards from the line, and when Connacht outhalf Matthew Jarvis missed two long-range penalties, Connacht had wasted their territorial stranglehold on the game.
It took 34 minutes to break the deadlock. Edinburgh gained sufficient momentum and territorial control that was rewarded when Connacht were pinged for not rolling away in the tackle. Laidlaw stroked over the 22m penalty in the 34th minute, and the home side continued to control proceedings late in the half after Gavin Duffy was sinbinned. After Connacht also lost influential No 8 George Naoupu to injury, the penalties continued to mount, and Laidlaw added his second in the 39th minute to go into the break 6 - 0 ahead.
It remained as tight in the second half as both sides had to rely on their kickers. The breakthrough came after replacement Niall O'Connor's attempted chip was blocked down and replacement scrumhalf Gregor Hunter claimed the touchdown with Laidlaw adding the extras, but three minutes later O'Connor made amends, when, on the loop, he crossed in the left corner. It brought Connacht within four points and when they were awarded a 77th minute penalty they went for broke. The maul made immediate headway but the move eventually broke down out wide and with it the chance of taking a third win on the trot.
Connacht v Edinburgh: G Duffy (cpt ), M McCrea, H Fa'afili, E Griffin, T O'Halloran, M Jarvis, F Murphy, R Loughney, E Reynecke, R Ah You, M McCarthy, M Swift, J Muldoon, J O'Connor, G Naoupu. Replacements, R Ofisa for Naoupu (37m ), D Rogers for Ah You (44m ), B Wilkinson for Loughney (50m ), N O'Connor for Jarvis (54m ). A Flavin for Reynicke and P O'Donohoe for Murphy (60m ), B Tuohy for McCrea (67m ).