BY LINLEY MACKENZIE
Connacht return to the Galway Sportsground for the first time since last month's Heineken Cup win over Zebre when they host the current Celtic League champions tomorrow evening (7.45pm ).
The Ospreys, who won last season's RaboDirect Pro 12 for a record fourth time, arrive in Galway on the back of a superb victory over current leaders Ulster, who were beaten at home for the first time this season. As a result Connacht will have to raise their performance levels yet another notch following their disappointing 10-point loss to the Scarlets last weekend.
Coach Eric Elwood says last weekend's 25-15 defeat in Llanelli was the direct result of players’ lack of self control and to that effect Connacht have focused this week on discipline, particularly at the breakdown, bringing in a referee to aid in their preparations.
"We knew it was going to be difficult over there. On our last three visits they have been difficult and demanding, scoring a lot of points against us. But when you go over there and score two tries to one, you think you have a chance. Unfortunately for us, we lost the game on a little bit of composure and poor discipline and that is frustrating," Elwood says.
Elwood is expected to welcome back Dave McSharry and Robbie Henshaw from Irish duty, although Mike McCarthy will be unavailable. Also doubtful are flanker Andrew Browne (ankle ), Mick Kearney (finger ), Ronan Loughney (calf and groin ), Mark McCrea (knee ), and Eoin McKeon (ankle ). Denis Buckley (knee ) returned to training this week but is unlikely to feature, while George Naoupu (neck ) also trained lightly this week but is due to return to a specialist for assessment. Elwood says he will delay team selection until as late as possible to allow player recovery.
Although Connacht were without a game in three weeks while the Welsh sides had been playing LV Cup, Elwood acknowledged there was an "element of rustiness". However, he says, it was the same penalties that kept costing his side.
"We have spoken about it this week, and it's about self control as an individual. It's been a strong learning curve for us, but it's costing us points and we need to change otherwise we will get the same results and no points."
Connacht also have a poor record against the Swansea-baed Ospreys, failing to win a fixture since 2008, and with only four home matches remaining this season it is imperative Connacht take full points from tomorrow's clash.
"We went at it toe-to-toe at training this week and hoping we can give that same physicality and intensity to our game on Friday which now we have to do.
"We know we let points go at the weekend, so we need a win. We need a win to challenge for our target of getting so many points for the rest of the season. The only way to beat Ospreys is to meet them physically, win the breakdown.”
Connacht can also expect any infringements to be punished as they were last weekend. Despite carving open the Scarlets' defence within a minute after Fetu Vainikolo set up Danie Poolman for an opening try, Connacht found themselves 12 - 8 down at the break.
"We have taken a serious look at ourselves because it was our indiscipline, our petulance, and not doing the right think that is costing us. We spoke about it at half time and only gave away three penalties in the second half, but the damage was done.
"They had a guy who with a great boot - the only one missed was on the halfway line on the stroke of half time, so really he got six kickable penalties, and against a quality kicker you are gifting them 18 points. We just made things hard for ourselves."
While a Dan Parks' penalty effort rebounded off the crossbar, Scarlets' outhalf Owen Williams nailed two to give the home side a 6-5 lead after 19 minutes. Although a Parks' drop goal levelled the scores by the 30th minute, Williams added another two penalties before half time.
Crucially the home side grabbed a try on 53 minutes with Williams extending the lead with the conversion and two penalties to leave Connacht facing an uphill battle. They did reply when Michael Swift sent Ronan Loughney over for a second try with Nikora adding the extras, but it was not enough to give them a losing bonus point.