Connacht will fight on with heart and hope

Connacht will have one eye on Edinburgh and Gloucester this weekend as these two clubs, fighting for Champions Cup rugby, will meet in the final of the European Challenge Cup.

If the English outfit prevails, Pat Lam’s squad could meet them again in the Champions Cup qualifying play-off - but only if Connacht secure the seventh place play-off.

All season Connacht have maintained their top six position for automatic qualification. But, having lost to Glasgow last weekend by 31-13 and dropped to eighth for the first time, even the seventh place play-off is looking unlikely.

Not only needing two wins, Connacht must also depend on how Edinburgh and Scarlets fare in the final two Guinness Pro 12 outings.

It is unfortunately all a bit anti-climactic after a season in which Connacht have continued to break milestone after milestone in their quest for Champions Cup rugby. And already the season reviews are being written, a draw and a controversial loss against Cardiff, and a home defeat to Edinburgh proving costly.

However much Connacht are disappointed by last weekend’s result, Pat Lam vows his players will fight on - their pride intact.

"Round 20, going into May, and we have controlled our destiny from September to now. We have lost that, and all we can do now is go to Zebre and get a win, and a good win, and see what happens," he says.

"It's certainly not over at all. These guys have a lot of pride. We have to pick ourselves up, we have two weeks to recover, and get over to Palma and put the pressure on the ones above us at this stage. "

Connacht may have played some of their best rugby in the opening 20 minutes, but they only led 6 - 0. With a dominant scrum, they left opportunities behind, including a scrum penalty on their opponents' line which should have provided a deserved reward for their efforts.

While Glasgow coughed up a series of penalties, Connacht's first on 22 minutes provided the visitors with their opening opportunity, and left wing Fijian Niko Matawalu made it count with the opening try. The pattern re-emerged after Connacht had missed two penalties - Stuart Hogg crossed and Matawalu was gifted a try by intercept to establish a 19-6 lead for the visitors.

"We were happy to be 6-5 down the way the opening 30 minutes went, so to be 19-6 up at half time was fortunate," - an understatement from Glasgow’s Gregor Townsend.

"Our discipline was poor, but we looked really good in the last quarter, and the changes we made helped take away Connacht's strength at the scrum. We defended well close to our line, but we were in that area on too many occasions," he conceded.

The second half replicated the first - Connacht making all the moves with five successive penalties before Aly Muldowney secured Conancht's only try after Robbie Henshaw was held up on the line on 52 minutes. When Carty missed a third penalty, the gap was still 13 - 19.

Glasgow, content to soak up the pressure, were as happy to feed off Connacht's mistakes, and Adam Ashe and Tommy Seymour sauntered through for two more tries before the end, putting paid to Connacht's hopes of maintaining the automatic qualification place.

"Sixth place has been our goal, it's where we want to be playing, and we have been punching above our weight," says Lam. "We have to look at ourselves, how many chances? Our energy and commitment and all of that stuff was good, but anyone can pass ball, even my seven-year-old girl can pass a ball. It's who can do it under pressure. Everyone loves playing rugby at this time of year, but when there is a collective of experienced internationals, they can do it a lot better, and that has been the big learning for us."

Connacht: T O'Halloran, D Poolman, R Henshaw, B Aki, M Healy, J Carty, K Marmion, D Buckley, T McCartney, R Ah You, U Dillane, A Muldowney, J Muldoon (cpt ), E Masterson, E McKeon. Replacements, J Cooney for Marmion (49 ), A Browne for Dillane (54 ), D Leader for O'Halloran (54 ), M Nikora for Carty and G Naoupu for Masterson (62m ), R Loughney for Buckley and F Bealham for Ah You (68 ), S Delahunt for McCartney (74 ).


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