Connacht signed off a most extraordinary season with a best place finish in the RaboDirect Pro 12 League.
They may not have done it in style, losing to a play-off chasing Glasgow by 24 - 3, but their improvement in all areas of play throughout the season ensured they finished in eighth place, ahead of the Dragons, Treviso, Edinburgh and Aironi. For the second year in succession, Connacht have improved their league standing - sufficient that if the Pro 12 was used as a Heineken Cup qualifier, Connacht would be in next season's competition on their own merit. And, were it not for two yellow cards against Aironi two weeks ago, Connacht would also have been in line for the Fair Play Award which Leinster collected.
Glasgow ensured they secured fourth place to set up a semi-final clash with Leinster at the RDS in a night of farewells and standing ovations - for Warriors players and staff, including departing coach Sean Lineen, and to the Partick Thistle fortress of Firhill as the Warriors move to the new city council’s Scotstoun Stadium next season.
Coach Eric Elwood acknowledged this final fixture was not Connacht at its best, particularly after a recent run of form which had seen them leapfrog three teams. However on this occasion it did not matter with both the Dragons and Treviso losing in the final fixtures too.
"We were disappointed because felt we had a game plan and a massive opportunity. We created a lot of chances in the first half, but did not take them, and even at 11 - 3 down at half time, we still felt we could win. Unfortunately we put ourselves under pressure and a couple of decisions went against us.
“However, all said and done, we have to respect the lads and the effort they have made over the whole year. The league is based on an entire season, not just one match and, although we weren’t good tonight, we have finished in eighth place which is another improvement on last year. It’s Connacht’s best finish in the league which is a great achievement.
“ I said to the boys, they must be congratulated for their entire season's work. We had 15 new players this season, a new coach in Billy Millard, key injuries at critical times, and a tough Heineken Cup campaign, so to finish where we have, is a huge credit to them.
Unbeaten against Glasgow in their last four outings, Connacht were on the back foot for long periods against an emotionally charged home side. With an 11 - 3 half-time lead, courtesy of a DTH Van Der Merwe try and Duncan Weir’s kicking, the home side's trademark defence - the best in the league - denied Connacht from capitalising on first half possession. In the second they grabbed territorial control with a superior kicking game. In disrupting Connacht's primary possession up front, they finished with a second try from a pushover to sign off in front of 5374 fans - one of the biggest crowds for a league game outside the Edinburgh derbies.
Connacht: G Duffy, K Tonetti, E Griffin, H Fa'afili, T O'Halloran, M Nikora, F Murphy, D Buckley, A Flavin, R Loughney, M Swift, M McCarthy, J Muldoon, J O'Connor, G Naoupu. Replacements, R Ah You for Buckley (51m ), R Ofisa for O'Connor (54m ), M Jarvis for Nikora (56m ), J Loxton for O'Halloran (56m ), P Donohoe for Murphy (63m ), S Maguire for Loughney (65m ), M Kearney for Swift (65m ), D Murphy for Flavin (72m ).