Old friends become rivals tomorrow evening (7.30pm ) as Edinburgh make their first visit to the Galway Sportsground under former Connacht coach Michael Bradley.
With just three points between the sides in the RaboDirect Pro 12 table, both outfits will be gunning for the points, irrespective of past associations.
Edinburgh, despite qualifying for the Heineken Cup quarter-finals, have not enjoyed the best league season, and are poised just two places above Connacht. Last weekend they slumped to a 21 - 10 defeat to the Dragons, who overtook Connacht as a result.
However tomorrow’s match presents Connacht with another big opportunity to improve their league standing, and continue a fine home record against the Scottish outfit. But, says Eric Elwood, Connacht will need to up their performance levels after a lacklustre display last weekend against Glasgow. Trailing at half time, Connacht were lucky to grab a 13 - 13 draw with the last kick of the game.
“ The most pleasing thing of all is that we got two points from a game that at half time we didn’t think we would. The key for us is to get a performance, get the intensity and tempo levels up in our game, and get the four points which ultimately we are looking for.”
Elwood has no fresh injury concerns, but will await final fitness tests on flanker Ray Ofisa and centre Eoin Griffin before naming his side today. Griffin came on as a second-half replacement against Glasgow and is a likely starter if fully fit - similarly Ofisa after suffering a knee injury.
Edinburgh will pose a different threat to Glasgow, particularly out wide where they boast leading try scorer Tim Visser. “He’s a huge player for the way they play, a huge threat, and one that has always caused us problems,” says Elwood. Defensively Connacht will need to be on top of their game, particularly on the counterattack, while the breakdown will also be a key area, particularly if Connacht want to secure some quick ball.
Edinburgh overcame Connacht earlier in the season in Murrayfield despite the visitors playing most of the rugby. However Elwood insists Connacht are good enough to win, if they play to potential.
“We have a good record against them so we know we are capable of beating them. We just have to put all the elements together that is ultimately good enough to win the match. It’s a home game and a big opportunity for four points. If we win, we leapfrog Edinburgh - that’s what we are looking for.”
Edinburgh’s style of play would indicate a more expansive and exciting game than last weekend’s battle with Glasgow which was anything but pretty. Despite an uncharacteristically lacklustre display from Connacht, a last-minute penalty from outhalf Niall O'Connor ended Connacht's 10-game losing run in the RaboDirect Pro 12.
Both defences were unyielding in a dogged affair. The key difference was the kicking statistic. Although the Warriors missed two poorly-struck drop goals - neither of which was attempted by their outhalves - they nailed every kick at goal, while Connacht missed two first-half efforts. Incredibly the Warriors, who were third in table going into this fixture, have scored only one more try than Connacht throughout the entire league; Edinburgh have scored more than double.
Glasgow’s defence stymied Connacht's ability to build momentum, particularly in the opening 15 minutes when they dominated. They were helped by some poor handling from Connacht in a scrappy opening half, with the only fizz provided by Warriors' prop John Welsh who charged over after 26 minutes for a try which Ruaridh Jackson converted. It took until the stroke of half time before Niall O'Connor, who had missed two earlier efforts, posted a score.
Jackson was again on target after the break, and it was not until Connacht were handed a life-line when right wing Tom Seymour was yellow carded for killing the ball after a break up field by Tiernan O'Halloran, that the home side gathered any momentum. Three minutes later the Connacht left wing grabbed possession from a chip, and darted in the corner, with O'Connor nailing the conversion to level affairs.
Glasgow had Connacht pinned on their line for long periods and, but for a try-saving tackle from John Muldoon, fullback Peter Murchie would have sealed the deal for the visitors. Instead they retook the lead when replacement outhalf Duncan Weir slotted a simple penalty, but he took the wrong option out wide. It allowed Eoin Griffin to grab possession and lift the siege, and when O'Connor was offered a last-minute penalty, he ensured Connacht scraped through for a draw.
Connacht Rugby v Glasgow: G Duffy (cpt ); F Vainikolo, K Tonetti, H Fa'afili T O'Halloran; N O'Connor, P O'Donohoe; B Wilkinson, A Flavin, R Loughney, M Swift, M McCarthy, J Muldoon, E Grace, G Naoupu. Replacements, D Moore for O'Donohoe (51m ), E Griffin for Tonetti (59m ), D Gannon for Grace (71m ).