Wednesday 28 June 2017

Home comforts key in top-two battle

Lam's men to learn lessons from Treviso shock and sink Warriors

Connacht players do their stretching exercises during training at the Sportsground this week (SPORTSFILE)
Connacht players do their stretching exercises during training at the Sportsground this week (SPORTSFILE)

Johnny O'Connor

There is one sure thing in sport: you will lose. But those who are best equipped to deal with defeats ultimately succeed. Connacht have shown they are a team that choose to learn from losing. That is the big reason they have evolved so much.

Pat Lam made a whole host of changes for the game against Treviso, a few young guys got their chance, and there were a few injuries to key individuals. So it was always going to be a tough game against a side looking for Champions Cup qualification.

Nobody expected it to be that close, and I certainly didn't, but when you make that amount of alterations, you sometimes lose the cohesion and accuracy that allows you to win.

The good news is Connacht are through to a Pro12 play-off for the first time and the next task is to secure a home semi-final. History suggests those that secure home semi-finals reach the decider.

So it's vital Connacht beat Glasgow; it won't be easy, you're playing a side who won by 60 points against Zebre last weekend. But Connacht have it within themselves to win.

Connacht have the ability to deliver an incredible performance this weekend, we have seen that in the inter-pros, and against the likes of Scarlets, Ospreys and Edinburgh when it mattered most.

Last weekend's defeat, as hard as it was to take, could be the best thing ever for this group. There's nothing like a result like that to shock a team into action, and I'm sure it was a really tough week in training.

But not for any negative reasons: this team seem to thrive on adversity; we saw it over Christmas, when they couldn't put eight on the bench against Newcastle. Connacht consolidated their position in the Pro12 and in the Challenge Cup and bounced back when players got back fit.

I'm sure this week, the players would have been disappointed in themselves that they couldn't take advantage of the position they found themselves in at Stadio Monigo, with three tries on the board and they should have closed it out.

Particularly when there wasn't that much sway in the scoreline towards the end of the game. Chasing one point to end up losing three is a harsh lesson.

Basics

They would have used this week to sharpen the basics again, and I'm sure Pat and his fellow coaches would have been looking at this game for weeks, as they prepared a plan that could stop a rampaging Glasgow.

Beating Zebre 70-10 might have been a huge confidence booster for them, but at the same time results like that can act against a side. As a team, Glasgow won't have been exposed to the level of intensity that they are about to face. Their game against Zebre at best could be described as a run-out. This one won't be.

Connacht have players coming back from injury at the right time, and if those leaders perform as they have been doing all season, it could be a very interesting 80 minutes in the Sportsground.

The Warriors won by a point the time these sides last met, in Round 2; when Connacht lost 33-32 to a third-string Glasgow back then, no-one outside the camp can have imagined they would be fighting it out with them for a home play-off in Round 22.

But the key thing is the venue, and Connacht have their destiny in their own hands. If ever there was an opportunity for Connacht to put on a show for their home faithful this is it.

The game has been sold out for weeks, it's the third game in a row that they have packed out the Sportsground and the fans certainly weren't disappointed against Leinster or Munster.

But this is the big one, and this can set them up for a home semi-final. That would be massive for the west and for Galway - to have a game of such magnitude in the city.

Connacht must beat the reigning Pro12 champions first, and then if they do, they probably will be facing them back in the Sportsground in a couple of weeks' time.

For the fans this would have been the stuff of dreams a couple of seasons ago.

The players always believed it would be a reality.

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