Last year's loss to visitors Treviso still fresh in Connacht's mind

John Muldoon leads a Connacht charge against Cardiff Blues in action from the Guinness Pro12 clash at the Sportsground on Friday night.
					Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy

John Muldoon leads a Connacht charge against Cardiff Blues in action from the Guinness Pro12 clash at the Sportsground on Friday night. Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy

Deserved winners of the Guinness Rugby Writers of Ireland Team of the Year award this week, Connacht will want to continue their improving form when they host Italian side Treviso on Saturday (3pm ).

This is a must-win opportunity to register a victory, close the gap on the leading six in the Guinness Pro 12, and build some important momentum going into the back-to-back European fixtures with Wasps.

Connacht will be missing a handful of players. The recent international trio of Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane and Kieran Marmion will not be involved, right wing Niyi Adeleokun, who has been involved will also be rested, while centre Craig Ronaldson is awaiting scan results on a thigh injury from last weekend's game. However with Tom McCartney, Denis Buckley, Nepia Fox Matamua and John Cooney having come through last weekend's game against Cardiff unscathed, and with Matt Healy in line for a return after two months sidelined with a hand injury, there is every reason to be positive.

Connacht have lost to Treviso twice in the Pat Lam era - most recently, and surprisingly, late season before the Pro 12 play-offs. And Duffy says that defeat is very much part of this week's preparations.

"We have discussed Treviso at length.They are always a really tough opposition for us. We had a tough day at the office up front over there last year, and that is something we haven't forgotten. We are definitely not taking this lightly.

"We are getting better - confident and happy with the base we have laid down now - and it's real important we can build on that going forward."

Last weekend's 18-7 victory over Cardiff was necessary after the disappointing defeat to the Dragons. And although nowhere near the perfect performance, there was more than enough possession, sufficient accuracy, and an improved sense of urgency and drive, particularly in the second half, to deliver victory.

Pat Lam was "happy" with the win.

"It wasn't perfect, but we just needed to get the win. We were pretty angry from the Leinster and Dragons games, but we ground out the wiin. C.”

However he was not so happy with the penalty count.

"When we had them right in the 22, we gave away penalty with a high tackle, then our scrum gave away a penalty, then a penalty at the maul. We had the opportunity to put the pressure on and get the bonus point, those are things we have to fix. It's an area we pride ourselves on, so we have to tidy up those areas."

With pressure mounting after a poor performance against Dragons, Connacht did enough in both attack and defence to grab a third league win and deny seventh place Cardiff a bonus point. Had they not gifted the visitors a first-half try, their victory would have been more comfortable.

Captain John Muldoon once again led from the front with a man of the match performance, and was prominent in Connacht's opening try in the 16th minute, Despite a dominant opening quarter, they had failed to score, until openside Jake Heenan initiated a counter-attack. Strong support play from Muldoon and Eoin McKeon followed before left wing Stacey Ili kicked ahead, and from Muldoon's chase, Cardiff fullback Dan Fish conceded the five metre scrum. This time the execution was accurate, and with Muldoon in control, scrumhalf John Cooney touched down and converted for a 7-0 lead.

Infuriatingly, however, they gifted Cardiff a try from the restart when Carty's attempted long pass out of defence was easily read by left wing Tom James who had the simplest of finishes to dot down with outhalf Steven Shingler converting. And within minutes they were attacking the Connacht line again - the South Pacific centres stretching the Connacht defence. They came within inches of scoring a second, and Connacht were left off the hook when Shingler missed a penalty from a subsequent scrum.

Mistakes continued to haunt the home side, and they were not helped by the loss of centre Craig Ronaldson after 37 minutes. However late replacement Tiernan O'Halloran, who had been released from Ireland late in the week, added experience to the three-quarters, and by the end of the half Connacht were rewarded with a 39th minute scrum penalty, which Cooney nailed for a 10-7 lead.

Connacht maintained the momentum after the restart, wisely kicking behind the rushed defence, and as the forwards started making the hard yards, Cooney added three more points when the visitors were penalised for obstruction after 49 minutes.

A superb tackle from Muldoon forced a turnover from Matthew Morgan to set up another scoring platform. Niyi Adeolokun brought Connacht closer to the line before the ball was moved quickly wide, and Bundee Aki finished with a try on 56 minutes. Although Carty missed the conversion, Connacht were in the driving seat.

Cardiff, however, regained the initiative, and dominated the final quarter. Morgan looked set to score but for the twin defensive efforts of Adeolokun and Aki, while a superb steal from Jake Heenan at the line-out and another at the breakdown sealed the much-needed win for the champions.

Connacht v Cardiff: C Kelleher, N Adeolokun, B Aki, C Ronaldson, S Ili, J Carty, J Cooney, D Buckley, T McCartney, C Carey, Q Roux, J Cannon, E McKeon, J Heenan, J Muldoon (cpt ). Replacements, T O'Halloran for Ronaldson (27m ), D Heffernan for McCartney, C Blade for Cooney (54m ), N Fox-Matamua for McKeon (61m ), R Loughney for Buckley and Stevenson for Roux (both 64m ), JP Cooney for Carey and M Boschoff for Carty (66m ).


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