Connacht may not be in the best physical shape ahead of Saturday's battle with Wasps, but coach Pat Lam is hoping mental strength and the home venue will help his side win this vital Champions Cup fixture.
A bursting home crowd at the Galway Sportsground and an improvement in key areas on the pitch will ensure Connacht have a good chance to reverse last weekend's 32-17 defeat at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry and take pole position in pool three.
“If we play how we can, we have a game plan that can win this, so it will come down to execution,” says Lam. "Wasps are a strong side with some class players, and we let in four tries despite a really good effort, but there are definitely parts of our game we can tidy up."
There is little doubt, however, Connacht are struggling with fit bodies, particularly in the pivotal outhalf position with Jack Carty the only player available. New signing Marnitz Boschoff is out for at least three months after shoulder injury on Monday - the South African forced off late in the club's victory over Benetton Treviso. And his loss is exacerbated by the continuing injury to Shane O'Leary, who remains on return to play protocols after suffering concussion in training before the Cardiff game. With Craig Ronaldson sidelined until mid-January, and no one available in the Eagles/Academy - Carty's brother Luke is a sub-Academy player - centre Rory Parata is now the back-up player.
"Jake is the only recognised kicker still standing. There's a few players who tried to put their hands up - Bundee was keen until he hurt his thigh, Tiernan [O'Halloran] said he's step up, so I just said, 'none of you practise', because the last time we were in this situation, they all went practising and a couple of them got injured."
While Lam has not ruled out drafting in a player from outside, it will not be before Saturday's crunch fixture.
Lam also has his fingers crossed both O'Halloran and Aki are fully recovered from haematomas, hip and thigh respectively. Wing/fullback Cian Kelleher is sidelined for a month with a torn hamstring, centre Stacy Ili is awaiting results of an ankle scan and is "unlikely", while Peter Robb, who was originally selected on the bench last weekend, is recovering from a thigh injury at training. Up front Jake Heenan had scans on both knee and ankle yesterday and is ruled out, while prop Ronan Loughney continues rehab.
As a result Lam has registered new signing, Fijian international flanker Naualia Dawaila, and he could well make an appearance this weekend, as could Danie Poolman in the backs.
"Before last week I thought we had turned the corner in terms of injury. It's frustrating, it has moved from the pack to the backs now."
As a result this week's on-field training has been limited to one session, with the big focus on "mental preparation".
"This whole week is a chance to practise a bit of mental toughness, focus around prep off the field. All up we'll have one training session just to ensure we get bodies on the field. Everyone is on light duty."
Without doubt Connacht are hurting after last weekend's result at the Ricoh, particularly having dominated possession. However a malfunctioning line-out, a lack of clinical prowess inside the 22, and systems errors contributed to Wasps' bonus point win.
"That’s where the frustration came – we showed enough that we could have won that game. Some of the silly system errors we made on their tries, which was frustrating, because it was good effort, but the guys made some silly errors and conceded points, easy points. Tidy those things up, we’ve got a great chance. That’s what gives us confidence."
Connacht will improve and so will Wasps, with players such former international Kurtley Beale promising to entertain the Sportsground faithful. Although yellow-carded last weekend, Beale still managed to pick up the man of the match award.
Beale produced an ideal start for the premier league outfit, grabbing the opening try after seven minutes, after Connacht had lost early possession and conceded a penalty. Wasps traditional build-up was patient and effective before the Wallaby veteran was able to spin out of Ili’s tackle for the try, which Jimmy Gopperth converted.
After Carty missed an early penalty effort, he was on target after Beale's yellow card on 17 minutes, and despite a mulfunctioning line-out, Connacht continued to find gaps in the Wasps' defence. However Goppert added another three points when Connacht were ruled off-side, but within three minutes a super Marmion break and try after a Muldoon pass at the base of the scrum, had the sides level with Carty converting.
Gopperth nudged his side ahead 13-10 at the interval, and within minutes of the restart Wasps had crossed again - the influential No 8 Nathan Hughes scoring after a 22m line-out with Gopperth adding the extras. Once again Connacht responded well - an interception from replacement Rory Parata produced a second try, with Carty's conversion reducing the arears to 20-17.
There was no suggestion at that stage Connacht would not score again, but the home side took control as Connacht suffered a number of injuries. And although Connacht continued to create opportunities, they were unable to score. After Carty missed a penalty, Wasps immediately capitalised from a turnover with captain Joe Launchbury scoring, and there was no way back for the visitors. The former European Cup winners added a fourth try after 73 minutes through wing Josh Bassett to claim a vital bonus point.
WASPS: R Miller; C Wade, A Leiua (B Macken 49 ), K Beale (F Halai 73 ), J Bassett; J Gopperth, D Robson (J Simpson 62 ); M Mullan (T Bristow 73 ), T Taylor, M Moore (J Cooper-Woolley 54 ); J Launchbury, K Myall (J Gaskell 67 ); A Johnson (A Rieder 73 ), T Young (G Thompson 67 ), N Hughes.
CONNACHT: T O’Halloran (M Healy 47 ); N Adeolokun, S Ili (R Parata 38 ), B Aki, C Kelleher (C Blade 52 ); J Carty, K Marmion; D Buckley (JP Cooney 73 ), T McCartney (D Heffernan 67 ), C Carey (F Bealham 45 ); U Dillane, Q Roux (S O’Brien 62 ); N Fox-Matamua, J Heenan (E McKeon 45 ), J Muldoon.