Pride at stake for Connacht

Connacht, having been forced to relinquished any remote hope of attaining a Champions Cup place, now must summon all their pride to face top-of-the-table Glasgow Warriors in Scotland tomorrow evening (7.35pm ).

It is hard to imagine anything other than a home win - all the momentum is with Dave Rennie's side as they try to maintain their top spot with Munster close behind. And while coach Kieran Keane will not lack motivation when coming up against his "old boss" from the Chiefs, rallying the players may be a little more difficult after licking their wounds this week.

Keane was blunt in his summation of the 39-10 Liberty Stadium defeat, saying his team probably got what they deserved - "far too many mistakes, basic errors, fundamentals, an horrendous night for us" - but maintains his side does not lack effort.

"We do try, but if we are as inaccurate as we were [against Ospreys] in most facets of the game, we are always going to struggle."

There were some mitigating factors - not least what Keane described as a hangover from the Gloucester defeat which had taken a toll physically and mentally - but that will not wash for a second successive week. Games have always been closer between these sides, and win or lose, a performance of substance is needed tomorrow evening.

Forwards coach Jimmy Duffy maintains Connacht will fly out today with a mindset to win.

"We are preparing to try to beat Glasgow at the weekend. It will be a huge challenge, and after their loss at the weekend, they will be gunning for us, so it's going to be a competitive fixture.

"We have been within range of a lot of teams this year which shows we are competitive, but we are looking for continuous improvement, and that is the driving factor. We need to express ourselves and realise our potential."

Duffy says Connacht need to take the positives from this season, particularly the introduction of some young players, such as Peter Robb last weekend.

"You can't buy experience, and that is what we are really driving at the minute. So to play in that pressure cooker environment against players of that calibre in Glasgow is what it is about."

High expectations

Duffy accepts expectations have not been met since winning the PRO12 trophy two seasons ago.

"In the last couple of years the expectation has been very high, but we have had players leave the club, players come into the club, a number of young guys coming through, so it is evolving. We had never been in that position before, never won a trophy, or transitioned out so many players; never had a pre-season with seven out on international duty.

"That was a massive learning for us, and I believe we will be the stronger for it. It will take some time, and I can understand supporters may be frustrated, but I think people have to see what is coming, where we are going, and some of the performances we have put together."

Injuries from Connacht's loss in Wales include Sean O'Brien, who is following HIA protocols and is an unlikely to travel to Scotland, while fullback Tiernan O'Halloran, who was unlikely to play due to a foot injury, is in front of a disciplinary panel today after being cited for contact with the "eye or eye area" of Ospreys' right wing Jess Hassler in the 76th minute in Friday evening's match.

O'Halloran has a near perfect disciplinary record this season - one yellow card against Ulster - which should count in his favour, and he is due to appear via video conference before an all-Scottish disciplinary panel of Rod McKenzie (Chair ), Bill Dunlop and Frank Hadden (all Scotland ).

Whether or not O'Halloran is cleared, he will not be playing this weekend, and Darragh Leader is the likely replacement. With nothing to play for but pride, Keane may well be tempted to mix the team up again, giving some fringe players an opportunity before the final game against Leinster, where Connacht will be looking to farewell John Muldoon with a winning performance.

It will also show supporters how Connacht have improved after a stuttering start to the season in September which ultimately left them with too much to do at this end.

The Ospreys, having overtaken Connacht since Steve Tandy was axed in January and replaced by forwards coach Allan Clarke, played with renewed confidence that is testament to the 300 international caps they boasted in their starting XV.

No reprieve

Connacht handed outhalf Dan Biggar two early opportunities for a 6-0 lead, before gifting Hassler an intercept try from deep in the Ospreys' 22, putting the home side in the driving seat by 13-0 after 16 minutes. In many ways it was a knock-out blow for Connacht, who continued turning over possession too easily against a team determined to overhaul local rivals Cardiff for the spot in the Champions Cup.

It did not get much better for the beleaguered Connacht side until a penalty to touch provided some momentum, and eventually temporary replacement Craig Ronaldson exploited space on the left to touch down and add the conversion, narrowing the gap 13-7 after 22 minutes. Connacht lost Sean O'Brien with a head knock, and although John Muldoon made an entrance, the reprieve did not last long. Fullback Dan Evans caught the defence and shimmied past Matt Healy for a third converted try for a 20-7 lead before Carty reduce the arrears to 20-10 at half-time. It gave them some hope of recovering, but within six minutes of the restart Carty missed what looked like a straightforward kick in front of the posts.

Academic result

Connacht, however, never recovered despite Marmion and Dillane's best efforts to add some urgency to Connacht's attack, while in defence Tiernan O'Halloran was twice called on to produce superb tackles to deny Hassler. Connacht held out until TMO ruled Scott Otten had breached the line, and Biggar continued his target practice, extending the lead to 27-10. Thereafter the result was academic. Hanno Dirksen grabbed the fifth, and although Biggar missed his only kick of the night, his 14 points earned him the Man of the Match.

Connacht Rugby: T O'Halloran; N Adeolokun, E Griffin, P Robb, M Healy; J Carty, K Marmion; D Buckley, S Delahunt, C Carey, U Dillane,J Cannon, S O'Brien, J Butler, E McKeon, Replacements, C Ronaldson for Carty (18-26 ), J Muldoon for O'Brien (22 ); C Blade for Marmion and C Ronaldson for Carty (both 53 ), DHeffernan for Delahunt and D Robertson-McCoy for Carey (61 ), D Leader for Adeoloken (65 ), P McCabe for Buckley and G Thornbury for Cannon (67 ).


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