After the high of last weekend’s first home Heineken Cup fixture, Connacht return to the bread and butter competition of the RaboDirect Pro 12 on Saturday (6.30pm ).
And it does not get any easier. Having faced the current English premiership leaders Harlequins and the French champions Toulouse over the last two weeks, Connacht now host the RaboDirect league leaders Ospreys.
The challenge for Connacht, according to coach Eric Elwood, is to take a reality check, park last weekend’s Heineken Cup, and lift themselves once again for what is expected to be another tough encounter.
The Ospreys arrive in Galway having lost just once in their eight league fixtures to date but, having been forced into a draw with Treviso last weekend in the Heineken Cup - a game they would have expected to win - the Welsh outfit will be in no mood to lose.
Connacht lost narrowly, 26-21, away to the Ospreys in September, but if Eric Elwood’s outfit is to climb back up the league table, home wins continue to be vital.
What the players will need to remind themselves is that if they can push a team like Harlequins all the way in the Heineken Cup, there is no reason they cannot front up to their Celtic opposition with the same commitment and determination. Elwood and the supporters will expect nothing less on Saturday.
“The turnaround is very quick, but we have two home games now in the Rabo, and it is important to park the euphoria of Toulouse,” says Elwood. “ We feel going into the next bout of European games that we have two home games in the Rabo and, if we can get results, then we can rocket up.
“Even though we did not get the results we would have liked in the two European games, we played at a different level of intensity and performance. And if we can bring that to the two games, starting with the Ospreys, that is important. I believe the experience will pay dividends, but we have to match that with the performance and a win if possible.”
Elwood has several concerns, including Eoin Griffin with a hamstring, Frank Murphy’s on-going groin injury, Michael Swift (knee ), George Naoupu (shoulder ), and Adrian Flavin (shoulder ), and Dylan Rogers. Keith Matthews, Andrew Browne, Johnny O’Connor and James Loxton remain out of contention. As always Elwood will not deviate too much from his starting XV, but it will depend on the availability of Mike McCarthy, who has been cited for his high tackle on Vincent Clerc last weekend. If all are fit, expect pretty much the same team that started against Toulouse.
“The players have to realise they have competed very well against quality opposition and we have a home game, and we have targeted all home games no matter who we are playing. All that matters is four points in the Rabo. If we can get some points, then we can go up the table nicely.
“I have no doubt the Ospreys will be coming after us. They know they won’t get it easy.”