Connacht Rugby coach Pat Lam wants all fans to flock to the Sportsground tomorrow (7.35pm ) to help his side overcome visitors Cardiff in their fifth Guinness Pro 12 fixture.
Having lost their unbeaten record to Glasgow last weekend, Connacht now face a Cardiff outfit which they have beaten just one in their last nine fixtures, and Lam says the supporters can help Connacht protect their 100 per cent record at home this season.
“One of the goals we set out this season was we really want to protect our home ground, and the biggest factor is the crowd. Against Leinster I have never experienced that sort of noise, and if we can replicate that, it will bring us over the line,” Lam says.
Against Leinster, the Sportsground boasted more than 5,000 - the biggest crowd to date this season - while last weekend’s Scotstoun fans also set a record at the Scottish venue for the season.
“It’s a real shout out to the fans. We have a responsibility to front up, and everyone is excited to get back to the Sportsground. It’s not about whether it’s Leinster or Cardiff. It’s about us and coming to see the guys giving everything, so the call is to come out for Connacht.”
Despite Connacht’s poor record against the visitors - including home and away losses last season - Lam says tomorrow’s game is one Connacht can win.
“We know to stay in the top four we must look after business this week. Getting four points is the priority. Cardiff is another big team, very physical, and we are at the point where we have bruised bodies which we are trying to manage because our guys have to put their bodies on the line, whether defensively or carrying the ball. But it’s a game we want to win, we believe we can win, and it’s in our home ground.”
The only doubt from last weekend’s game is Matt Healy who is undergoing the return to play protocols for concussion. And Lam could use the return of Willie Falloon to rest Eoin McKeon with George Naoupu, who made his first start against Glasgow, retaining the No 8 slot. Nathan White and Mick Kearney are also expected to start, having been among the replacements last weekend.
Lam has used this week’s training sessions to hone the defensive system which leaked five tries against Glasgow - although two were gifted by Connacht errors.
It ensured in-form Glasgow maintained their title credentials with a 39-21 win at Scotstoun, despite Connacht’s contribution of three tries in an entertaining match worthy of a top of the table clash.
Glasgow, with a strong wind, led 17- 7 at the break, having dominated the opening quarter. Super defence prevented a 13th minute touchdown, but after three successive penalties, fullback Stuart Hogg grabbed the first try after Tim Swinson broke from the side of the scrum. Weir, who missed just one kick all evening, added the extras.
However outhalf Jack Carty provided the spark Connacht needed, setting up camp inside the Glasgow half with a super break, and when his chip ricocheted off the covering defence, Dave McSharry finished off, with scrumhalf Ian Porter converting.
Just before the break the Scots were gifted a try when Darragh Leader's attempted clearance was blocked and scrumhalf Henry Pyrgos crossed, while Hogg grabbed his second try after a patient build-up soon after the restart.
Connacht finally gained some momentum through two penalties kicked to touch before Leader dived over in the corner after Carty’s skip pass. Porter produced a super touch-line conversion to bring Connacht back within a score
However Glasgow took advantage of a knock-on, with Swinson from the scrum putting DTH van der Merwe clear for their fourth try and bonus point.
Yet again Connacht responded, and the Scots were left reeling from Connacht's scrum, ensuring a penalty try was awarded with Porter bringing the visitors back within bonus point territory.
However Glasgow's ability to put Connacht under pressure paid dividends. After a 71st minute penalty, they crowned their display with Mark Bennett's intercept try to take pole position in the league table. Connacht Rugby: D Leader, D Poolman, R Henshaw, D McSharry, M Healy, J Carty, I Porter, D Buckley, D Heffernan, R Ah You, M Swift, A Muldowney, J Muldoon (cpt ), E McKeon, G Naoupu. Replacements, F Carr for Healy (HT ), M Kearney for Swift (HT ), C Ronaldson for McSharry (52m ), N White for Ah You and R Loughney for Buckley (58m ), Q Roux for McKeon (67m ), J Cooney for Porter (72m ), S Delahunt for Heffernan (76m ).