Connacht face Scottish trailblazers after record third league win on the bounce

George Naoupu on attack is tackled by two former Connacht players, Mike McCarthy and Eoin Reddan in Connacht’s victory over Leinster at the Sportsground.

George Naoupu on attack is tackled by two former Connacht players, Mike McCarthy and Eoin Reddan in Connacht’s victory over Leinster at the Sportsground.

Connacht Rugby, with little time to enjoy their “massive” win over Leinster, now head to Glasgow knowing the Scottish trailblazers are a different proposition, particularly at Scotstoun, in tomorrow evening’s Guinness Pro 12 fixture (7.35pm ).

Connacht’s perfect start to the season has been matched by Glasgow and current table-toppers Ospreys, and tomorrow evening represents a huge challenge for Pat Lam’s improving side.

Last year’s league finalists, Glasgow have been beaten only once in the last 13 outings as coach Gregor Townsend has developed a brand of rugby that is both powerful and pacey. All Connacht’s resources, both physical and mental, will be tested to the hilt against a side that can mix relentless offloading with kicking prowess and backs with pace.

Yet there is a growing belief and confidence in this Connacht outfit, and, crucially, a new calmness that should prevent any collapse if the game starts to go Glasgow’s way.

“It’s not something that has clicked overnight,” says Lam. “It is something we have been building on. I always admired the fight and spirit of Connacht, and it’s about channelling that into the way we want to play, about being calm and working as a team, and if we do that, our guys will last.

“ Confidence comes from winning, but it is understanding why we won - because we do this right in training and it works in the game.”

Although Connacht players are fitter and stronger this season - every player was issued with new weight targets in the close season - the biggest difficult is the small squad and the effect of physical games on the same players week after week.

As a result openside Willie Faloon - the only one currently standing - sat out training earlier in the week, as did Niyi Adeolokun and Dave McSharry. All are expected to be fully fit for tomorrow evening, while Danie Poolman, who was ill last weekend, was also back training as was Jason Harris-Wright, although the hooker is still three weeks away from full fitness. Tiernan O’Halloran, who has yet to make his start this season, will now undergo knee surgery on a cartilage, and is four weeks out.

While last weekend’s win was a “massive game in our history and where we have put ourselves”, Lam says tomorrow’s task is hugely different.

“Take away the atmosphere straight away - the 16th man helped us there. Glasgow are a class side, they have so much depth and quality, and they are big men and that is what we have to manage.

“Everyone will think Glasgow should win and rightly so, but for this group of guys there is a lot of belief that if we do our job and go through our processes every day, we will give ourselves a good chance again.”

What will be lacking is the 5,000 Connacht fans who rose up to cheer on their team last week - an atmosphere that Lam described as fantastic.

“Even the guys who have been here a while, and the new guys like Mils [Muliaina] were blown away. I have just ordered new headphones to cover my ears because I couldn’t hear myself on the radios.”

The groundswell of support that has grown for Connacht over the last six years finally had a real cause for release as the Clan fans chanted as never heard before - "we are, we are, we are top of the league". For the first time in the league's history, Connacht recorded three successive wins to continue their fairytale run.

Leinster packed the first-half punch to lead by 9-3, but it was Connacht who staged a remarkable second-half recovery, kept Leinster scoreless, and produced the knock-out blow to win by 10-9. The difference was Connacht's huge defensive effort and the greater will to win, while Leinster will be disappointed as they controlled possession, but they found it difficult to break their opponent's solid defensive line - albeit with two tries denied by TMO.

Helped by a superior penalty count - five in the opening 15 minutes - Matt O'Connor's side bossed and bullied most of the exchanges, claimed the territorial stakes, and looked far more confident with ball in hand.

Ian Madigan had posted three penalties, while Connacht's outhalf Jack Carty kicked an early effort wide before Connacht found any rhythm, and with their first attacking phase play, they were rewarded with a second penalty which Carty stroked over to narrow the deficit to 9-3.

However the frustrations continued for the home side and it would have been a long night for Connacht had Madigan not been denied an opening try. With captain John Muldoon in the sin-bin for offside, Connacht did well to halt the resulting march from Leinster's line-out. But from the ensuing scrum, Reddan looked to have put Madigan through the 10-12 channel, but the pass was deemed forward by TMO.

Although Robbie Henshaw came closest to making a breakthrough from a well-judged intercept, Connacht failed to pose any great attacking threat, but crucially their well organised defence kept a dominant Leinster out.

And, not for the first time this season, Connacht closed out a tight game. Without a sniff of the try line for most of the match, Connacht opted to kick a penalty from inside their own half, but Darragh Leader's effort was well wide. However it signalled a new approach for the home side as they started to take the game to their opponents, passes started to stick, the pack, led by Muldoon, Denis Buckley, and Nathan White, threw themselves into every tackle, and replacement George Naoupu started to make the hard yards.

The try when it came was worthy of the evening - a sweeping move across the pitch before a piece of Marmion magic - picking up from the breakdown just inside half way, cutting through the defence and outpacing the chasing cover. Carty's conversion put Connacht into the lead for the first time in the game after 55 minutes.

Suddenly the complexion of the game changed, the Clan Terrace rose, and when Dave McSharry cut down Rob Kearney at the knees to win a penalty, Leinster knew they were in a game. The visitors had only one more crack to claim the winner, but Kearney's kick ahead went out and with it their chances of claiming their second victory.

CONNACHT: D Leader; N Adeolokun, R Henshaw, D McSharry, D Poolman; J Carty, K Marmion; D Buckley, D Heffernan, N White; A Muldowney, Q Roux; J Muldoon (cpt ), W Faloon, E McKeon.

Replacements: G Naoupu for Faloon (31 ), F Carr for Adeolokun (ht ), M Kearney for Roux (48 ), R Ah You for White (64 ), C Ronaldson for Leader and I Porter fort Marmion (70m ).

LEINSTER: R Kearney; F McFadden, B Macken, I Madigan, D Fanning; J Gopperth, E Reddan; J McGrath, S Cronin, M Ross; D Toner, M McCarthy; R Ruddock, D Ryan, J Heaslip (cpt ). Replacements: C Healy for McGrath (46 ), G Darcy for Macken (55 ), S Jennings for Ruddock (60 ), T Furlong for M Ross and and S Jennings,(64 ) T Denton for Jennings (68m ), L McGrath for Reddan (75 ). REFEREE: J Lacey (IRFU )

 

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