Ireland team training helps Connacht step it up this week

Connacht Rugby and Irish international Rodney Ah You poses with fans after the Irish Rugby squad trained with Connacht at the Sportsground on Wednesday morning.  Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy

Connacht Rugby and Irish international Rodney Ah You poses with fans after the Irish Rugby squad trained with Connacht at the Sportsground on Wednesday morning.  Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy

Connacht's run of "cup finals" in their quest for Champions Cup qualification continues with the second successive Guinness Pro 12 fixture in Wales on Sunday.

This time round it is the Newport Gwent Dragons, that side that just downed Leinster in their own back yard, ending the Irish province's 21-game unbeaten run at the RDS in the Pro 12.

Although sitting in 10th place with just 21 points, and having won just two of their last six home games, the Dragons host Connacht at Rodney Parade with renewed confidence, and pose a real danger to Connacht's qualification hopes.

"We sit in sixth place, we have lost our safety net, we now have eight games and every one is a final," says coach Pat Lam.

"It's a big challenge for us considering where we are in the competition. We knew last week we had to go up another level, and at this stage everyone is stepping up.

After last weekend's result, Lam says it is not doom and gloom.

"First and foremost as a team we need to be really honest with ourselves. We are determined to show who we really are as a team We can do all the hard work here , but ultimately we are judged on 80 minutes and we have to do a better 80 minutes than we did last week.

"There were a lot of factors, but the bottom line is we need to step it up as a team. All our good stuff is teamwork."

Yesterday Connacht enjoyed training alongside Joe Schmidt's Ireland team at the Galway Sportgsround for the first time, which Lam said was perfect timing.

"It's massive. We talked about playing at higher level and so to be able to go up against the hottest team in international rugby at the moment, meant we needed to be on jobs today.

" We channelled everything today into getting our jobs done as team, which is what we didn't too last weekend, but have had that opportunity today and now we need to step it up again next weekend."

Lam will welcome the return of on-loan scrumhalf John Cooney who had been temporarily returned to Leinster - good timing given Kieran Marmion will miss the fixture with a shoulder sprain. And outhalf/centre Craig Ronaldson is also back following a quad injury to boost Lam's squad.

While still maintaining the vital sixth place position in the league, Connacht now it can be easily lost if they do not perform.

Last weekend they were comprehensively outgunned by fellow hopefuls Scarlets who had wrapped up the win and bonus point by the 51th minute to draw level on points.

Connacht maintain the vital sixth place spot, but Pat Lam's side will need to find some much-needed away form to back up their impressive start to this season's league.

"Disappointing," said Lam. " We have expectations and so do our supporters and we were below that today. We had quite a young group out there, but as a team we did not execute well, and the flow of the game changed dramatically with indiscipline. There's still a long way to go, so we will move on to the next game."

Connacht, having started with intent and pace, spurned two golden opportunities to post early tries, after outhalf Jack Carty had opened with a fourth minute penalty. But when Scarlets' John Barclay was carded in the eighth minute, the visitors failed to make it count. Firstly the home side halted Connacht's drive to the line and turned over possession with huge defensive effort, and then Matt Healy was denied a certain try through deliberate obstruction from flanker Jake Heenan.

It took the sting out of Connacht's attack as the home side wrested the initiative, winning the breakdown battle and applying territorial pressure. Five successive penalties enabled outhalf Adam Shingler to post two penalties, before right wing Michael Tacigikabau crossed out wide to kick-start the home side's bonus-point win.

With the new Kiwi centre partnership of Regan King and former Hurricane Hadleigh Parkes causing problems, the home side capitalised on a lost Connacht line-out with left wing wing Harry Robinson crossing. Adam Shingler made it a 16-3 lead before the killer blow came moments before the break. Connacht, trying to turn the tide, were camped on the Scarlets' line with a five metre scrum, but when replacement scrumhalf Ian Porter, in his first match in 10 weeks, opted to go wide, Scarlets' fullback Jordan Williams intercepted to race the length of the pitch, opening up a 25-3.

Although Connacht struck two penalties either side of the break, the Scarlets spurned the posts for a James Davis try and wrapped up the bonus point by the 51st minute. It got worse for the frustrated Connacht side when captain John Muldoon was carded, and with several players returning from lengthy injuries and Connacht missing the centre axis of Robbie Henshaw and Bundi Aki, all they could muster thereafter was a consolation try from Nikyi Adeolukun.

Connacht: D Leader, N Adeolokun, D Poolman, D McSharry, M Healy, J Carty, K Marmion, D Buckley, T McCartney, N White, Q Roux, A Muldowney, J Muldoon (cpt ), J Heenan, G Naoupu. Replacements, I Porter for Marmion (29 ), T O'Halloran for Leader (44 ), U Dillane for Roux (57 ), E Masterson for Naoupu (59 ), D Heffernan for McCartney and JP Cooney for Buckley (62 ), S O'Leary for Carty (72 ).

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