Connacht’s injury woes look set to continue for tomorrow evening’s RaboDirect fixture against Treviso at the Galway Sportsground (7.30pm ).
There are still major doubts over the availability of lock Michael Swift and centre Eoin Griffin, who did not train earlier in the week, while Johnny O’Connor is looking at another week or two before he fully recovers. Prop Dylan Rogers is also unavailable, while Mike McCarthy must sit out this second fixture as a result of his two-week suspension.
It all adds up to another tough challenge for Eric Elwood’s squad as they face an Italian outfit that started with 12 internationals against Leinster last week. Treviso boast a pack that is as formidable as any in the Pro12 and they utilise that strength to good effect through their line-out, scrum, and rolling maul. The likely weather conditions at the Sportsground tomorrow evening will suit their play, and Connacht must “roll up their sleeves”, according to coach Eric Elwood.
“Yes, we beat Treviso at the start of the year, but they have 16 more internationals coming this weekend. It just doesn’t get any easier.”
Elwood is hurting after a run of seven defeats, but it is important to believe in themselves.
“It hurts us when we are not winning, it hurts us when we get close, when we feel like we are letting people down. We have had harsh words and we have to believe in what we do, work hard, persevere, and it will come. I was hoping it would come last weekend, it didn’t. The lads know exactly where we stand and they know where they stand that we just need to get that win and get it this weekend.”
Missing Eoin Griffin through injury, it is possible Elwood may opt to play newcomer Kyle Tonnetti, who scored two tries for Galwegians last weekend and “put his hand up for selection”. The experience of Frank Murphy could also be an addition, aided by outhalf Niall O’Connor who could also gain a starting berth if Elwood opts for a change in the halfbacks. O’Connor has shown some astute line-kicking, which in the possibly tough conditions, would be a plus.
Connacht’s poor starts are proving costly, forcing them on the hind foot, and that is one area Elwood and his management team have been addressing. The breakdown against a big pack will also be key, while the backs will need to exploit any chinks in Treviso’s defence and convert their chances.
Last weekend against the Ospreys - a game Connacht had the potential to win - they only had themselves to blame when a lack of finishing - albeit stymied by an expected aggressive Ospreys' cover - saw them fall to their seventh defeat in succession.
They found themselves behind 10 - 6 at the break, and despite winning sufficient ball, particularly through the line-out, they failed to finish off at least seven chances to cross the Ospreys' line, eventually losing 17 - 6.
Connacht created several try-scoring opportunities - the first as early as the 12th minute when scrumhalf Paul O'Donohoe lost the ball over the line. And they were worthy of their lead when it arrived via a Miah Nikora penalty. However within three minutes outhalf Matthew Morgan had replied and when he grabbed the only try of the half, which he converted, the visitors took a 10 - 3 lead after half an hour. Connacht, despite utilising their driving maul to effect, and reaping rewards from an erratic Ospreys' line-out, were forced to settle for a second penalty from Nikora before the break. Continuing their momentum, Connacht secured three successive penalties at the start of the second half, resulting in Ian Gough's sinbinning, but they failed to capitalise. Another knock-on five metres out resulted in a wasted chance, and critically Connacht were penalised for crossing after a superb break from Tiernan O'Halloran. The turning point came when Duncan Jones, celebrating his 150th game, led the charge to establish territory before left wing Richard Fussell found replacement centre Sonny Parker on his inside shoulder who broke through to seal the victory, with Morgan adding the extras.
"For us to win games, everybody has to be on the money,” says Elwood. “Everybody has to be at their best to beat a team of the Ospreys' quality, regardless of who they have playing or not playing.
“ They have guys like Tommy Bowe who can win a game on his own with a couple of line breaks. We have to be workmanlike, we have to work very hard for anything we get, and unless things go right and we work extremely hard, we are not going to get rewards."