It is a crunch fixture for Connacht Rugby. With three wins on the bounce, followed by a loss and a home draw, Connacht now head to Italy for the first time this season needing to get back to winning ways in this season’s Guinness Pro 12.
They face a struggling Treviso side, which has yet to win a match, but that in no way suggests a win will be a given. However Connacht’s seasonal ambitions could well come down to games such as tomorrow evening in Italy (7pm Irish time ), and without doubt coach Pat Lam and his players will be primed for victory.
Connacht have only beaten Treviso once in the last four visits to Stadio Monigo, although they also drew two seasons ago, but last year Lam’s side recorded their worst result against the Veneto side - a result the Connacht coach wants to avenge, particularly on the back of a disappointing draw with Cardiff.
“We know we lost points there [against Cardiff]. It’s gutting. When you are in a competition you know you have to get everything you can, and we let two go.
“Now we go to Treviso where we lost badly last year, so we need to prepare well, get our standards back, and get the right result,” says Lam.
The Italian side has registered some poor results this season, and they will view Connacht’s visit as an ideal opportunity to kick-start their season. However, given Connacht’s form, and stung by last weekend’s draw, they should be too strong for the Italians.
Despite last weekend’s 24-24 draw with Cardiff, Connacht have lost only one of their last five fixtures. Yet Lam says the final few minutes against Cardiff were not up to standard, conceding a try by TMO at the death.
“We have to look at ourselves. We should have been ruthless enough to finish it off. At 24-10 things were going well, but we knew if you don’t put them away, and they did it to us last year, that they have enough quality if you keep them in the game they will be around, and unfortunately that is what happened, and we were not good enough to shut them down.”
Although Connacht preserved their unbeaten record at the Sportground this season, the result felt like a defeat.
In total control in the scrum and with territorial dominance, Connacht squandered two opportunities to put the game out of reach, and instead were left defending their lines at the death when Cardiff grabbed a dramatic equalising try on 78 minutes.
With the sides deadlocked at 10-10 at the break - Connacht’s try coming from Robbie Henshaw -the side had succeeded in putting Cardiff under early second half pressure, pinning them back with some super kicking from outhalf Jack Carty. And with Mick Kearney in control of an improved line-out, Connacht took charge. Once again the scrum proved Connacht's biggest weapon, and when openside Willie Faloon broke from the side of the scrum, Kieran Marmion side-stepped his opponent to race in at the right corner. Centre Craig Ronaldson added the touchline conversion to put Connacht into the lead after 43 minutes.
Three minutes later the 5,000 plus fans were on their feet again, helped by George Naoupu who won the battle at the breakdown for a penalty kicked to touch. In a rehearsed move, Kearney found prop Nathan White who charged up the blind to grab a third try with Ronaldson once again adding the extras.
With a lead of two tries, Connacht, however, went looking for the fourth, opting to kick penalties to touch. When they won a third penalty from their scrum just five metres out, somewhat bizarrely Connacht opted for touch again - on a night when Ronaldson's goal kicking had been flawless.
The home side was left to rue that decision as the Blues replied with two tries from just two attacks into their opponents 22. Flanker Macauley Cook dived over the Connacht cover to score on 70 minutes, and with only one score between them, Connacht found themselves under attack once again. In a phenomenal 32 phases, the Blues relentlessly picked and drove forward from half way to under the posts, and eventually they were rewarded. The TMO ruled Sam Hobbs had not been held up, grounding at the posts. Patchell added the single conversion to draw the sides level, and in a last-gasp effort Carty's attempted drop goal was blocked.
Connacht Rugby: D Leader, N Adeolokun, R Henshaw, C Ronaldson, D Poolman, Carty, K Marmion, R Loughney, D Heffernan, N White, M Kearney, Q Roux, J Muldoon (cpt ), W Faloon, G Naoupu. Replacements, D Buckley for Loughney (46 ), E McKeon for Faloon (50 ), R Ah You for White (53 ), A Muldowney for Roux( 60 ), S Layden for Ronaldson (65 ), F Carr for Adeolokun (67 ), S Delahunty for Heffernan (70 ), I Porter for Marmion (71 ).