Connacht look to get back to winning ways

Connacht's run of "cup finals" in their quest for Champions Cup qualification continues with the second successive Guinness Pro 12 fixture in Wales on Sunday.

This time round it is the Newport Gwent Dragons, that side that just downed Leinster in their own back yard, ending the Irish province's 21-game unbeaten run at the RDS in the Pro 12.

Although sitting in 10th place with just 21 points, and having won just two of their last six home games, the Dragons host Connacht at Rodney Parade with renewed confidence, and pose a real danger to Connacht's qualification hopes.

"We sit in sixth place, we have lost our safety net, we now have eight games and every one is a final," says coach Pat Lam this week. "It's a big challenge for us considering where we are in the competition. We knew last week we had to go up another level, and at this stage everyone is stepping up.

After last weekend's result, Lam says it is not doom and gloom. "First and foremost as a team we need to be really honest with ourselves. We are determined to show who we really are as a team We can do all the hard work here , but ultimately we are judged on 80 minutes and we have to do a better 80 minutes than we did last week. There were a lot of factors, but the bottom line is we need to step it up as a team. All our good stuff is teamwork."

On Wednesday, Connacht enjoyed training alongside Joe Schmidt's Ireland team at the Galway Sportgsround for the first time, which Lam said was perfect timing.

"It's massive. We talked about playing at higher level and so to be able to go up against the hottest team in international rugby at the moment, meant we needed to be on jobs today. We channelled everything today into getting our jobs done as team, which is what we didn't too last weekend, but have had that opportunity today and now we need to step it up again next weekend."

Lam will welcome the return of on-loan scrumhalf John Cooney who had been temporarily returned to Leinster - good timing given Kieran Marmion will miss the fixture with a shoulder sprain. And outhalf/centre Craig Ronaldson is also back following a quad injury to boost Lam's squad. While still maintaining the vital sixth place position in the league, Connacht now it can be easily lost if they do not perform. Last weekend they were comprehensively outgunned by fellow hopefuls Scarlets who had wrapped up the win and bonus point by the 51th minute to draw level on points. Connacht maintain the vital sixth place spot, but Pat Lam's side will need to find some much-needed away form to back up their impressive start to this season's league.

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