Connacht’s away form is under ever-increasing scrutiny as the club heads to Wales to face Cardiff Blues tomorrow evening (7.30pm ).
Once again coach Eric Elwood is urging his players to back up a home win when they travel to Cardiff Arms Park in a bid to challenge for another yearly improvement in the RaboDirect Pro 12.
Connacht’s only away win this season was against Zebre, and their form in Cardiff is poor - their only victory in 2001 when Elwood kicked two penalties in a tough 6-3 battle. Tomorrow Connacht need to show the same resolve and intensity if they are to break that 12-year gap,
Elwood says it is time Connacht took their good home form away.
“We need the same level of intensity and the same discipline as we showed against Ospreys last weekend. If we can back it up and reproduce that form in Wales, I am confident,” he says.
Elwood says the challenge has been issued to his players all week and they have responded in training, “knowing the importance of this week”.
And with Irish referee Dudley Phillips in charge, Elwood says discipline remains a major factor in getting that win.
“We showed last week what we are capable of. Our defence was excellent, our attack was good, and we need to play with that same intensity, while also keeping our discipline, to have a chance.”
Elwood does have some selection headaches due to injury. Without Robbie Henshaw, who is in Irish camp, he also faces the likelihood of being without Tiernan O’Halloran (knee ), Kyle Tonetti (shoulder ), Gavin Duffy, who took a knock at training, Dave McSharry (groin ), Andrew Browne (Achilles ), and Johnny O’Connor (knee ). However he is hoping some will be fit to play, including John Muldoon and Eoin McKeon who were also sidelined this week.
Connacht need to get something from this fixture to follow up last Saturday’s solid 22-10 victory over the current league champions in the Sportsground.
The home side, with a superior set piece, had edged the first-half both in territory and possession and it was reflected on the scoreboard with a 13 - 7 lead, but in the second half, they outscored their opponents by 9-3 to mark their first home match in a month with their fifth league win, and in doing so leapfrogged Edinburgh in the table.
Quickest off the mark, Connacht outhalf Dan Parks, who kicked 17 points, opened with a seventh minute penalty when the visitors were caught offside. However a succession of penalties allowed the Ospreys to establish some territorial control before lively scrumhalf Kahn Fotuali'i, took a quick tap penalty to dive over for a 10th minute try, which outhalf Matthew Morgan converted.
Connacht's combative forwards regained the initiative, and working through the phases, left wing Danie Poolman made a valuable break. The returning John Muldoon was held up on the line, but Michael Swift set up quick ruck ball for openside Willie Faloon who dived over for Connacht's first try after 17 minutes. Parks notched the conversion and could have added to the score three minutes later when Connacht's pack had the Ospreys in all sorts of bother in the scrum. Although Parks missed the penalty from just inside half way, he made no mistake 10 minutes later from an easier position after the pack once again had the Ospreys backpedalling.
Crucially the home side also grabbed the first score after the restart to stretch their lead to 16 - 7 after Morgel Ellen was penalised at the breakdown. Although the Ospreys edged themselves into bonus territory with a 69th minute penalty, Connacht finished the stronger. A thundering tackle by fullback Robbie Henshaw on right wing Thomas Haberfield from Park's garryowen, and smothering follow-up from Eoin Griffin earned Connacht the penalty which Parks converted, and two minutes later the former Scottish international struck a drop goal to ensure the home side finished with a flourish.
Two Ospreys’ players, Joe Bearman and Ross Jones, have been cited for an alleged dangerous tackle following the fixture. The date of the hearing as yet to be confirmed.
Connacht: R Henshaw, T O'Halloran, E Griffin, K Tonetti, D Poolman, D Parks, K Marmion, B Wilkinson, J Harris-Wright, N White (cpt ), M Swift, M Kearney, J Muldoon, W Faloon, E McKeon. Replacements, G Duffy for O'Halloran (21 ), R Loughney for White (HT ), A Browne for Kearney (54 ), E Reynecke for Harris-Wright (61m ), R Ah You for Wilkinson (65m ), J O'Connor for McKeon (68m ), P O'Donohoe for Marmion (71m ), B Wilkinson for Ah You (75m ).