Connacht Rugby’s away form will be tested this evening when an injury-hit squad faces the Warriors in Glasgow.
And with coach Eric Elwood struggling to finalise his side due to a growing number of injuries, it has not been the ideal preparation for their first trip to the Warriors’ new home at Scotstoun.
Andrew Brown, Miah Nikora, Tiernan O’Halloran and Eoin Griffin were forced to play through the second half of last weekend’s defeat to the Scarlets with injuries, but it is hoped that No 8 George Naoupu will be fit enough to line out. John Muldoon, Dan Parks, and Danie Pollman are definitely out of contention, and Elwood may need to switch some players in both the back row and the backline as a result. However he is giving his players every chance to recouperate from what was a bruising encounter against the league leaders last Saturday.
“We obviously want to give guys every opportunity because we’re just a little bit thin on the ground with injuries,” says Elwood. “Playing Glasgow on their home pitch is always going to be a difficult trip. It’s never an easy place to go, albeit it’s a new experience this year because we’re going to a new ground.”
Despite two defeats to Ulster and the Scarlets, Glasgow picked up a valuable 28 - 10 win over the Ospreys in Wales.
“They were very unlucky in their two defeats, particularly against Scarlets, but to win against the Ospreys is no mean feat, so that has kick started their season and they’ll be looking at this as an opportunity.”
Conacht, following their second successive home defeat, will need to pick themselves up, particularly in defence where they leaked three tries in the opening 10 minutes of the second half.
“We did some good stuff in the first half in particular, we were 8-0 at half-time and we let ourselves down in the first 15 minutes of the second half. These things are fixable and we can get them right. If we stay positive, keep working and developing our game, then we feel we can get there. There are no easy games. We have to go to Glasgow, but these lads are not afraid of a challenge.
Elwood will be looking for greater physicality against a Scottish outfit that boasts a talented and big back line.
“They’re physical ball carriers and they’re direct, so we need to be ready for the physical confrontation. We pride ouselves on being able to go toe to toe with the opposition, but we also need to impose our style on them.
“ We’ve seen glimpses at the start of the year of what we can do when we have the ball so it’s about getting the balance when we have the ball in attack and smoothing out our defence but the main thing is matching Glasgow in the physicality stakes.”
With two successive home losses, Connacht Rugby's start to this season's RaboDirect Pro 12 has not gone as planned.
"We set ourselves high standards, particularly at home and we have faulted on two home games, so it is very disappointing," said Elwood of his side's 24 - 11 loss to the Scarlets.
An intercept by Scarlets' captain Jonathan Davies inside his own 22 was a "devastating blow" for Elwood's men, having led at half time by 8 - 0 against the wind. However the concession of three tries in the opening 10 minutes of the second half and a last-minute intercept deprived Connacht of a losing bonus point and ensured the Welsh outfit grabbed their third successive five-pointer.
Connacht's half-time superiority resulted from an 8 - 2 penalty count on which they capitalised. Despite a misfiring line-out, the Connacht scrum remained solid, while the pack scrapped at the breakdown, led by Mike McCarthy and the hard-working Ethienne Reynecke. It provided the platform for an opening penalty which outhalf Miah Nikora struck perfectly to open the scoring after 10 minutes. Connacht spurned a golden opportunity minutes later when Tiernan O'Halloran's final pass could not find fullback Gavin Duffy, but two minutes before the break they reaped the rewards for their endeavour when Nikora fed Eoin Griffin who crossed in the right corner.
However within a minute of the restart debutant Llanelli fullback Jordan Williams had cut through for the first of two tries to narrow the deficit to a single point and, although Priestland missed a penalty chance three minutes later, right wing speedster George North crossed for a second try and his fourth this season to give the visitors the lead for the first time after 47 minutes. Four minutes later Connacht's missed tackle count continued as Williams bagged his second try.
Connacht did stage a second-half recovery, but their kicking game stymied any continuity and instead provided the Scarlets with too many opportunities to run at their opponents. Nikora, with another flawless goal-kicking display, added a 60th minute penalty to bring Connacht within striking distance and a bonus point, but with the last attack of the game, Nikora's long pass was well read by Davies who intercepted and ran the field for a bonus point try.
Connacht v Scarlets: G Duffy (capt ); T O'Halloran, E Griffin, D McSharry, F Vainikolo; M Nikora, K Marmion; B Wilkinson, E Reynecke, N White; M Swift, M McCarthy; A Browne, W Faloon, E McKeon. Replacements, A Flavin for Reynecke (30m ), M Jarvis for O'Halloran (50m ), R Ah Your for White and D Buckley for Wilkinson (58m ), R Henshaw for Griffin (61m ), J O'Connor for Faloon (65m ), D Gannon for Swift (68m ), D Moore for Marmion (70m ).