It has been a tough week for Connacht Rugby. After an “embarrassing” away defeat to Edinburgh in the Pro 12, Connacht now head to France to face one of Europe’s most decorated clubs, Toulouse, in the Heineken Cup.
The challenge for Connacht will be to park last weekend’s dismal result and lift themselves for an expected tough encounter against the French giants in this first of the back-to-back pool three fixtures
Connacht have produced some of their best performances in this competition, and there is little to suggest that coach Pat Lam will demand and get a performance worthy of a Connacht jersey. And the players need only to review last year’s visit to Stade Ernest Wallon to witness a performance that received plaudits from the doyen of European coaches, Toulouse’s Guy Noves.
Thus motivation will not be lacking, but what will concern Lam is Connacht’s continuing ability to spurn scoring chances and concede possession.
"We had a long review [after Edinburgh] to show the opportunities we missed. However even then it was not acceptable. So we need to focus on what we can improve on against a top team like Toulouse."
Lam has not been helped by another five players sidelined through injury. Danie Poolman, who injured a knee in training, will now be out of action for 12 weeks instead of the expected three weeks, while prop Ronan Loughney fractured his eye socket and will be sidelined for a month. All Ireland League action also took its toll with Tiernan O'Halloran damaging his knee, and Andrew Browne, in his first game back from injury, requiring a scan on his wrist. In addition Lam is monitoring Aly Muldowney (shoulder ) and Robbie Henshaw (ankle ), but is hopeful they will pull through.
Lam says the occasion will take care of itself, but Connacht have to get themselves and their minds right.
"Whoever we play, it is an opportunity, and it just happens we are going to a tough place where they do not lost often and it's a big challenge. But there will be opportunities for us to create chances - it is whether we are good enough to take them or good enough to stop them at what they do well, and that is what training is all about this week and about our mental approach.
"We have to get around the fact that we were well beaten at the weekend on the scoreboard in the end, but we did some good stuff and there are things we have to be better to give us a chance."
Assistant coach Dan McFarland says Connacht has often faced hard times, but he remains optimistic.
"The key is that we focus on what we believe in and what we are trying to do. I genuinely feel optimistic about what we are doing here, and the evidence suggests that we have put in place a system that will bear fruit. There are certain things that we need to work on, but it's not a crisis - it's a work in progress."
Anything but a French victory is unlikely, but Connacht have a huge motivation - none more so than to restore some pride after last weekend’s defeat. If they do that, take their chances and keep their defensive lines in tact, travelling supporters should be rewarded. Connacht have shown they have the talent, as well as the attitude, to test the top teams, and they do so again.