Connacht will fight all the way to keep Champions Cup rugby dreams alive 

In the finale of the Guinness Pro 12 League season, Connacht host the league leaders Ospreys at the Galway Sportsground on Saturday (3pm ) needing a win to give them a chance of achieving their seasonal goal.

Saturday will determine if Connacht's top six and Champions Cup qualification has been attained, and to do so it will require a performance like no other at the Sportsground - but even that, unfortunately, may still not be enough.  

The best case scenario is that Connacht win with a bonus and the Scarlets lose; the worst that Connacht lose, and both Scarlets and Edinburgh win.

Currently sitting in seventh position, four points adrift of Scarlets, Pat Lam's side need to win with a bonus point and hope the Scarlets lose to Treviso to regain that precious automatic qualification spot.  If Scarlets win, they will not be caught and instead Connacht will be looking over their shoulder to Edinburgh, one point below Connacht, for the seventh place and  play-off with Gloucester.  The Scottish side hosts Leinster - and few would bet on Matt O'Connor's side doing Connacht a favour with Leinster having already qualified in fifth place and unable to make the top four.  

However Pat Lam is not contemplating a seventh place yet. 

"Not focusing on that. Sixth place has been our goal right throughout, I suppose at 5pm on Satuday, and that is the exciting bit after all season, that at 5pm the top six will be known and all we can do is get the win to give ourselves the chance," Lam says.

"We know it's not in our full control, but it's like the lottery, you can't win if you don't have a ticket. So we need the ticket, which is a win, and then we will see what happens."

 Whatever the result, it will not take away from Connacht's most successful season in the Pro 12.

"It is exciting times for us,  to get to round 22 and have so much to play for. In previous seasons it has been a dead rubber, but this team is pretty focused on Saturday, and to have this last game here at home with so much riding on it, is great, and to have the team top of the table is probably even better. We are all excited by the challenge."

The visiting Ospreys are in the lead spot - but level on 70 points with both Glasgow and Munster, with Ulster on 69. Thus they need a win to guarantee a home semi-final.

"They are the No 1 side for a reason - quality players, British Lions and Welsh internationals. We are under no illusion of the challenge we face, but when the pressure comes on we must trust in our ability and the team.

Lam admits Ospreys' quality of players will be a step up from Zebre's last week, but he insists it is all about trusting in the process. 

"It's our teamwork against their team work. It's not about international players, it's about us as a group. We will need our best attack ever and our best defence. We scored tries against them last year, but they scored more. Their attack is lethal, so we need to make first-up tackles to stop them getting behind us."

Ospreys are expected to travel with all their available stars, while Lam is not in a position to make changes to his injury-hit side.  Danie Poolman's finger is being monitored this week, while Michael Swift returned to training and could be in line to make an appropriate farewell appearance - the longest serving and most capped player in Connacht after 15 years continuous service.

 Connacht go into Saturday's match on the back of a comprehensive 40-10 win over Zebre in Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi last weekend. Understandably Lam praised his players for their professional approach in dealing with increasing pressure at the time of the season. He expects a similar response against Ospreys. 

"Every week you face a challenge, it's about being able to step up, but that's one thing I admire about these guys here. They don't run, they will face it.  They don't always get it right, but it's how people learn. I have no doubt these guys will face Saturday's challenge, embrace it, and look forward to it, but the key thing is to understand that as individuals they are not facing it on their own."

Last weekend it was a collective team effort that saw off Zebre and claimed a new record of 10 wins.

 As expected Zebre, particularly through their pack and dangerous fullback Dion Berrymore, made life difficult for Connacht in the opening 60 minutes. And although Connacht were ahead at half time by 21 - 10, it took until the 56th minute when bagging the fourth try bonus point before they could finally shake off the Italians. 

Connacht's firepower in the backs revelled in the warm conditions, with any number looking likely to score. Left wing Matt Healy, whose scorching run supplied scrumhalf John Cooney for the first try, grabbed the second after a trademark bone-cruncher from Robbie Henshaw turned over possession, and before the break Cooney had bagged his second from a rehearsed set piece line-out, with outhalf Jack Carty adding all conversions. 

Zebre, despite some woeful handling, did provide some warning signs in the opening half, particularly from their scrum which succeeded in getting the upper hand. It allowed centre Gonzalo Garcia to break through the cover before scrumhalf Brendan Leonard opened their account and outhalf Luciano Orquera had made it all square with his conversion early on. 

However their determination petered out after Connacht's pack joined the scoring act after the break when openside Eoghan Masterson touched down from a forward drive on 56 minutes.

 Thereafter the bench made its impact. Kieran Marmion's end-to-end attack was finished by Tiernan O'Halloran, Shane O'Leary, a late bench replacement for Darragh Leader who injured his hand in training,  grabbed try number 6, and both  were converted by Academy player Conor McKeon in his first start to ensure Connacht go into Saturday's match with their seasonal goal still alive.

Connacht: T O'Halloran, D Poolman, R Henshaw, B Aki, M Healy, J Carty, J Cooney, D Buckley, T McCartney, R Ah You, U Dillane, A Muldowney, J Muldoon (cpt ), E Masterson, E McKeon.  Replacements,  K Marmion for Cooney (48m ), A Browne for Dillane (52m ), G Naoupu for McKeon (56m ), C McKeon for Carty and JP Cooney for Buckley (both 60m ), F Bealham for Ah You (62m ), S O'Leary for Aki (72m ).


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