After two visits to Wales in the Pro 12, Connacht look forward to their return to the Sportsground (Sunday 5.15pm ) and the opportunity to consolidate their top six position.
Treviso are Sunday’s visitors and Connacht will be expected to claim their ninth win this season. If they do, they will set a new record for the highest points Connacht have scored in the Pro 12.
Despite the Italian side’s lowly position in the Guinness Pro 12 table, Connacht cannot afford to take Treviso for granted. And Pat Lam’s men have been forewarned. The Benetton rugby side will arrive full of enthusiasm and confidence having recorded their third win of the campaign last weekend. And they did it in style with a 40-24 win over Cardiff Blues - the first time they have beaten a side other than fellow Italians Zebre this season.
Now they are targeting Connacht to achieve their next milestone - their first away from home, and Lam says with seven rounds to go, it is neck and neck for that sixth place qualification spot.
“We still don’t have a safety net, and we have to perform. Treviso are a good side, particularly if they get their tails up. If you don’t handle the set piece well, you are in for a long day.”
Lam says Connacht need to bring the same intensity and more in their defence this week, having missed only one tackle in the Rodney Parade victory.
“Treviso are strong up front, but they also like moving the ball around. It’s like they have a new lease of life.
“We have now beaten our total score from last year - we had 35 and now we have 37, and if we win this weekend, we will set a new record as the highest points Connacht have scored in this Pro 12 structure, so there is a lot to play for. We have been setting little milestones throughout the season, and it’s nice to acknowledge them and create a little bit of history for ourselves.”
Lam will be without fullback Darragh Leader who injured his knee in the last play of the game against the Dragons, while Kieran Marmion remains sidelined. Both should be back next week, but Lam is hoping Mils Muliaina may be fully fit after his hamstring injury, while Tiernan O’Halloran is also available.
Up front Nathan White will also be monitored this week for possible inclusion, Ronan Loughney is back training and is available for selection,
"Last weekend we needed the win to control our own destiny. We got that and nothing changes this week. The pack below are coming hard, but we have to keep our noses in front, and the only way to do that is keep winning," says coach Pat Lam.
Regardless of how it was achieved, Connacht’s 30-25 victory over Dragons in Rodney Parade was vital in securing the four points and maintaining their grip on the sixth place.
Once captain Rynard Landman was red carded for an off-the-ball elbow into Jack Carty’s head, it was always going to be a Connacht win. Played in atrocious weather conditions, Connacht did not play to their best, but they will be more than satisfied to have exited Rodney Parade with their eighth win of the season. And with Ulster edging out Edinburgh in Murrayfield, and Munster forcing a late draw with Scarlets in Llanelli, it allowed Connacht to move two points clear of the Welsh outfit in the fight to play Champions Cup rugby next season.
Connacht, always in control, held a 17-11 lead after a first half marked by the dismissal of lock Rynard Landman in the 14th minute when Connacht were leading by 10-3.
In reply to Tom Prydie's opening score, Connacht capitalised on an illegal tackle on scrumhalf John Cooney, and from a penalty kick to touch, centre Craig Ronaldson crashed his way through three tacklers and Carty added the extras for seven-point lead.
It was one-way traffic for the next 10 minutes before Eoghan Masterson, in his first start, added the second try on 23 minutes. However the replacement of flanker Nick Cudd with veteran Ian Gough ignited the home side, and they wrested control for the next 20 minutes and were rewarded with a try by Welsh squad member Hallam Amos and a Prydie penalty before the break.
Continued Connacht pressure resulted in two penalties which Darragh Leader struck well for a 23 - 11 lead, The Dragons, however, never let up and a Jack Dixon try and Prydie's conversion closed the gap to five. Connacht, despite the errors, finally put the game out of reach in the final 10 minutes. Although they made a hash of a driving maul, Mick Kearney successfully blocked down an attempted clearance, and won the touchdown to seal the match in the 77th minute with Leader adding the extras.
The Dragons were rewarded for their valiant effort with a second Amos try to grab a consolation bonus point.
Connacht v Dragons: D Leader, D Poolman, D McSharry C Ronaldson, M Healy, J Carty, J Cooney, D Buckley, T McCartney, N White, Q Roux, A Muldowney, J Muldoon (c ), J Heenan, E Masterson. Replacements, T OHalloran for Carty (48m ), M Kearney for Roux (55 ), F Bealham for Ah You (66m ), G Naoupu for Masterson (70 ), I Porter for Cooney (78 ), JP Cooney for Buckley (78 ), S Delahunbt for McCartney and N Adeolukun for Healy (79 ),