Connacht Rugby are back in action after a three week break with high hopes of turning narrow defeats into much-needed victories.
Currently bottom of the RaboDirect Pro 12 table, Connacht need a winning start to this next tough series of games, which includes the remaining Heineken Cup pool fixtures and the Christmas interprovincials.
First up is a visit of the Scarlets to the Galway Sportsground on Saturday (5pm ). Currently sitting midtable on 16 points - 10 ahead of Pat Lam’s Connacht - Scarlets have always posed a serious threat. Powerful up front and talented out wide, Scarlets have traditionally been regarded as one of the better all-round footballing sides, and it is no different under former Irish international Simon Easterby.
However Connacht must take advantage of a Scarlets outfit that is likely to arrive without its international players. Liam Williams, Rhys Priestland, Scott Williams, Rhodri Williams, Ken Owens, Emyr Phillips, Samson Lee and Rhodri Jones, have all been involved in Warren Gatland’s side for the past three weeks, and during this time Easterby has taken advantage of LV Cup action to blood a number of youngsters.
In contrast Connacht, having been decimated with injuries to the back row and midfield, have utilised the three weeks for a much-needed rest. Eoin Griffin is back and played for the Eagles against Ulster last Friday, Danie Poolman has recovered, having missed the Glasgow fixture, Eoin McKeon is returning to full fitness having also played 10 minutes last weekend, while Aaron Conneely has been passed fit, which is a boost given that Mata Fifita damaged his medial ligament and will be out for up to six weeks.
“It has been a great break for the players. Some guys who have had a lot of rugby needed the break. Obviously injuries have played a big part to date and it has had a knock-on effect, but I certainly felt the buzz at training this week and everyone is refreshed and ready to go,” says Lam.
In a long stretch of games until February, Connacht’s ambition is to get off the bottom of the table.
“I think we need to keep improving. In the last four or five games we have pushed teams really closely, We have had teams that on form and paper were significantly better to the neutral, but we have shown a lot of heart and commitment, and also created enough opportunities to win all of those games, but we were not clinical enough.
“However there is a real doggedness and determination to get off the table and we want to start climbing.
“When we look at reviews and how many points we left out there, it’s about collectively and individually saying, what can I do better in my game, what can I do better off the field and really driving those standards
“Starting this week obviously we want to win all of them, but it’s more a case of getting the process right and everyone doing their bit.
“Everyone wants this, every week we put the pressure on ourselves to perform and that is where it counts.”