Connacht coach Eric Elwood continues to sweat on the availability of some key players for the first interprovincial of this season’s RaboDirect Pro 12.
Elwood is delaying naming his starting XV for Saturday’s clash with Leinster at the RDS (5pm ) to allow players as much time as possible to recover.
Key players include captain Gavin Duffy (calf ), winger Tiernan O’Halloran (hamstring ), and Eoin Griffin (hamstring ). Also carrying injuries, but expected to recover are Frank Murphy (groin ), Henry Fa’afili (hip ), TJ Anderson (ribs ) and Brian Tuohy. James Loxton, who came on as a replacement in his first Pro 12 game last weekend, is ruled out with a medial strain, joining Keith Matthews, Miah Nikora, and Andrew Browne and George Naoupu
On the plus side Mark McCrea has also returned to training following an ankle injury and should be available, while Elwood also has the option of using Matthew Jarvis who came on as a replacement against the Ospreys for the injured Loxton.
As a result training has been limited this week and Elwood is considering bringing in players from Nigel Carolan’s interprovincial championship winning u-20s.
“We are trying to mind players during the week - it’s tough because they are in key positions and right now we have no other backs standing. If the injuries do not clear up, I have no issue going down to the u-20s. We will have to see in which position we are short, but in the meantime it’s a waiting game,” Elwood says.
The fresh injury crisis comes at a time Connacht are playing with confidence and composure, having grabbed a bonus point away to league leaders Ospreys last weekend. Now they face a Leinster side that is currently equal on points in the league table, and their coach Joe Schmidt says the loser of this local derby will drop out of the top four.
However Elwood knows this is a great opportunity to grab a win over the European champions.
“It would be naive to think Leinster will not have done their homework on us, and they will not take any chances. However it is an opportunity for us. It will be tough battle, but it has the makings of a good game. We feel that if we play our brand of rugby and take more chances, then we have a good chance to win.”
Elwood is once again concentrating on the breakdown area where TJ Anderson, John Muldoon, Johnny O’Connor and Ray Ofisa have performed well in the last six weeks,. “If we want to put our mark on the game, then we have to play well in that area,” he says.
Despite losing to the Ospreys last weekend, Elwood believes it was Connacht’s best performance of the season.
“We were apprehensive going there knowing it was going to be difficult because they were top of the table, but we had a good chat with ourselves to make sure our individual and collective attitude was right and it was probably the best performance of the year to date, We did not get the four points, but it was a good performance, we got some good scores, played good rugby and asked questions of them.
“We played at a great intensity and tempo and it is up to us to keep that intensity against Leinster and hopefully create the opportunities which will be converted.”
“Leinster are a terrific band, they are well supported, they are the European champions and derby matches are always exciting. The RDS is a nice place to play rugby and if anything it spurs you on playing in front of a bid crowd, and no doubt well have a bit of extra support for Connacht there this year."
An injury-time penalty from Ospreys' impressive outhalf Dan Biggar ensured the Welsh side notched their fourth win on the trot, but Connacht outhalf Niall O'Connor, with the last effort deep in injury time, nailed the pressure kick to ensure Connacht grabbed something from their visit to Liberty Stadium.
Connacht went into the break 10 points down, having conceded two soft tries at the start and end of the first half. In between they had kept pace in a high tempo game and created several chances - one of which they made count. But despite an early second-half try, the second from Gavin Duffy, they could not bridge the gap in the end.
Fullback Barry Davis had finished off an Ospreys' counterattack in the sixth minute to open the scoring, with Dan Biggar converting, but with Johnny O'Connor working hard at the breakdown, Connacht started to dominate possession. A stray pass prevented Gavin Duffy crossing and the Connacht captain was again denied a try when Davies headed him off after Brian Tuohy had set up a right wing attack. However Connacht's work rate was rewarded when Duffy crossed in the corner after patient work from the pack, and outhalf Niall O'Connor nailed the touchline kick to level matters in the 25th minute.
Biggar added a 29th minute penalty, and when Connacht failed to deal with a speculative kick from Davies, left wing Hanno Dirksen had a clear run under the posts, with Biggar adding the extras. However O'Connor struck a penalty just before the half-time whistle to reduce the deficit to seven.
Biggar kicked an early second half penalty before Duffy grabbed his second try from O'Connor’s well judged kick, bringing Connacht within five points. Connacht continue to apply the pressure, but strong defensive work from the hosts kept Connacht out and instead it was decided by the kickers.
Connacht v Ospreys: G Duffy (c ), B Tuohy, E Griffin, H Fa'afili, T O'Halloran, N O'Connor, F Murphy, B Wilkinson, E Reynecke, D Rogers, M Swift, M McCarthy, TJ Anderson, J O'Connor, J Muldoon. Replacements, A Flavin for Reynecke, J Loxton for Griffin (HT ), M Jarvis for Loxton (60m ), R Loughney for Wilkinson (60m ), S Maguire for Rogers (60m ), R Ofisa for TJ Anderson (62m ), P O'Donohoe for Murphy (71m ).
• The Connacht Rugby Supporters’ Club is running a bus from Galway to the RDS, leaving Busker Brownes at 12.30pm and returning 30 minutes after the final whistle. The package costs €45 (€30 match ticket ). Email [email protected] or call the branch office 091-561568