Connacht need to bounce back

Feet firmly on the ground after last week's surprise Glasgow walloping, Connacht must now produce a performance the Sportsground fans have come to expect when they host Ospreys on Saturday (7.35pm ).

Coach Pat Lam is promising Connacht will improve "massively" this weekend, knowing that unless they find the sparkling form which set the Guinness Pro 12 alive last season, it could derail their seasonal ambitions.

No need to panic yet, but Connacht have not been helped by deepening injury concerns, and resources are now stretched in both second and back rows, and in midfield.

Openside flanker Nepia Fox Matamua suffered a hamstring injury and is awaiting the results of a scan, leaving just four back row players standing. Last weekend's replacement James Connolly is expected to slot in if Fox-Matamua is ruled out, while newly-promoted Academy player Rory Maloney is also "fit and available".

Midfield options are also limited with Peter Robb following return to play protocols for a head knock last weekend, and Rory Parata, who made 18 appearances last season, sidelined for a month after injuring his knee in a club game. Fullback Cian Kelleher suffered a hip strain, scrumhalf Caolan Blade suffered a quad haematoma, and up front, prop Denis Buckley is also followed concussion guidelines.

Tiernan O'Halloran is available to make his first appearance since being capped for Ireland on its tour to South Africa, while prop Ronan Loughney is likely to take over for Buckley in the front row.

Ospreys arrive after a comfortable victory over Zebre. They share with Leinster the most titles won since 2001/2 - four each - although Leinster shade the honours with the only back-to-back win and five runners-up appearances. However Ospreys are expected to be in the shake-up every season, such is the quality of their squad. They also have in forward coach Chris Gibbes, a New Zealander who speaks the same language as Lam.

"Their result against Glasgow will fire them up," Gibbes says, "which is cool for us. It was an over flattering scoreline. They [Connacht] created chances, but they didn't finish them off for whatever reasons, so the message for us is to get better. We are seeing evidence of our strength in depth, which is a positive for the club, but we are by no means where we want to be."

Certainly Lam will demand Connacht convert any chances created this weekend, particularly having looked more comfortable than Glasgow going in at the break just 5-13 down. Facing into a strong breeze, Niyi Adeolokun scored in the corner in trademark fashion, and it seemed Connacht would kick on from there. Instead they struggled to control possession, failed to keep their usual courageous defensive line intact, lack urgency, and conceded six tries in this 41-5 drubbing - their heaviest loss at home since Pontypridd's 40-0 win in 2003.

"No doubt we had chances, particularly in the first half," says Lam. "The second half when we tried to run, we turned ball over - and we turned ball over last year - but it's our reaction to it which is a big part of our success and it wasn't there - so again massive learnings. I showed clips from the second half where it just wasn't us - as far as our line speed and what we bring. I have no doubt they were hungrier than we were, and we gave them a sniff.

"We spent five and a half minutes in defence in our own half by kicking the ball and not chasing it well, that's where we lost the game, and that's the hunger. That is an area where we have to improve, and we will, because there is a bit of pain going on at the moment."

However Lam says despite the disappointment, it is a long season.

The reality is, it was just five points on offer, that's all it was and we got none. Last year we lost five games and in two of those, we got no points. So that's one down, out of the way now."

"All our supporters said, 'fantastic, great last year', but we didn't get carried away, we went through the process. And now everyone is telling us it was as shocking performance, which it was, but we are not getting carried away by that either. We've had a good session, highlighted all the things that compared to our standards we didn't get quite right, but we also finished with a highlights package.

"There were moments in the game we were really good, but unfortunately too many moments when were weren't, so that's part of the process - don't forget the things you do well, but let's make sure we understand what we didn't do well, and now we move on."

With only one competitive pre-season fixture, last Saturday was a test of physical readiness for the new season. This weekend is a real test of the champions' character.

CONNACHT: C Kelleher; N Adeolokun, E Griffin (P Robb 55 ), B Aki, M Healy; J Carty (S O’Leary 66 ), C Blade (K Marmion 48 ); D Buckley (R Loughney 50 ), T McCartney (D Heffernan 61 ), F Bealham (JP Cooney 61 ); U Dillane (L Stevenson 61 ), D Qualter; E McKeon, N Fox-Matamua, J Muldoon (capt ) (J Connolly 73 ).

GLASGOW WARRIORS: S Hogg (S Lamont 61 ); L Sarto, A Dunbar, S Johnson, T Seymour; P Horne (R Clegg 64 ), H Pyrgos (A Price 69 ); G Reid (R Grant 50 ), P MacArthur (C Flynn 50 ), Z Fagerson (S Puafisi 50 ); T Swinson (T Uanivi 69 ), J Gray; R Harley, S Favaro (L Wynne 64 ), R Wilson (L Wynne 18-27 ).


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