Connacht Rugby bring down the curtain on their most exciting season since the game went professional when they travel to Glasgow for the final RaboDirect Pro 12 fixture.
It might seem a long way from the heady days of Heineken Cup rugby, but this game against the Glasgow Warriors still carries considerable significance - not least for the Firhill hosts who are vying for a semi-final berth alongside Leinster, Ospreys, and Munster.
The Warriors have been issuing war cries to their supporters for the last two weeks in the hopes of filling the Firhill ground for one last time, ensuring this is no easy end-of-season fare. And as a result, Connacht are expecting one tough battle.
Coach Eric Elwood insists his players have their own ambitions to finish the season on a high.
“Glasgow always is a tough place to go, and we expect Saturday to be more difficult. They have created a lot of hype for this game - it is their last at Firhill, coach Sean Lineen’s last in charge, they are saying farewell to some eight or nine players and, most importantly, they are fighting for a play-off place.
“They will consider us the dream draw for this last fixture - that we are a dead rubber with nothing to play for, but we have our own ambitions and we are going there to win,” Elwood says.
Training has been hampered this week with a host of knocks to players, including Johnny O’Connor, Gavin Duffy, Miah Nikora, Henry Fa’afili, Ethienne Reynecke, Brett Wilkinson, who is ruled out, Michael Swift, and Fetu Vainikolo. As a result Elwood will not select his squad until after training today, but he will not want to make any unnecessary changes to the team that overcame Ulster last time out.
Connacht’s recent record against the Scottish outfit is postitive - a draw in 2010 was followed by two successive victories and another draw, but this season Glasgow have not lost a home since Treviso’s visit in September.
“You go to Glasgow knowing that you have to earn a victory. They are confrontational and physical, and while they are not the most exciting team, they kick well and have a strong defence.”
With the exception of Leinster (308 ), Glasgow have leaked the least amount of points (318 ) - Connacht have coughed up 409. And, in Duncan Weir, they have the second highest points scorer, behind Ospreys’ Dan Biggar.
However Connacht know the ground, its spacial limitations, and the type of game plan they can expect Glasgow to play, and must adapt accordingly. Currently in eighth place, a victory for Connacht would ensure them of remaining ahead of Treviso, Dragons, Edinburgh, and Aironi, which would be their best finishing place in the league.
“Last year we achieved a ninth place finish which was our best ever, and if we could achieve eighth place it would be a great achievement.”
Glasgow, with 61 points, need only a draw to secure the fourth place and a semi-final fixture with leaders Leinster. Scarlets, with 57 points, and Ulster with 56, will be looking for victories over Cardiff and Munster respectively to keep their hopes alive.