Top-six dream slipping as Connacht fall to league leaders
Glasgow 31 Connacht 13
Recent defeats to Edinburgh, Scarlets and Cardiff are coming back to haunt Connacht as the league-leading Glasgow Warriors left the Sportsground with a bonus point in the bag and Connacht looking like another eighth-placed league finish.
All season long Connacht have stated a top-six Pro12 spot was their main goal of the season and after they suffered a fifth defeat on the trot on Saturday, hopes of the Champions Cup rugby it would bring seem far-fetched.
Pat Lam and his squad now need results elsewhere to go their way as they now trail Scarlets by five points and Edinburgh by four with just two games each remaining.
A bonus-point win against Zebre in a fortnight is important, and will be crucial should Edinburgh defeat Dragons on the previous night. At this stage even a seventh-placed play-off against an English Premiership side looks doubtful.
Surely Saturday's defeat was one of the most frustrating for the Connacht faithful to watch all season.
They bossed the first quarter and led 6-0 thanks to two Jack Carty penalties, but conceded three tries from then until half-time as scrum, defensive and attacking malfunctions allowed Niko Matawalu cross twice either side of Stuart Hogg's score.
The third quarter was better from Connacht, who bagged their only try from Aly Muldowney while Tommy Seymour was in the sin-bin, but Carty started the final quarter with a shocking penalty miss which would have put three points between the sides, before individual errors popped up again to allow Adam Ashe and Seymour wrap up the win for Glasgow.
Yet despite the chances of reaching the top six ever diminishing, Lam is not ready to concede defeat just yet.
"I said right from before you are not going to know (what we need), no one knows. This competition is one of those, that's the beauty of how it's set up," said Lam
"We're not sure what is going to happen, but it's going to go down to the wire. All we can do is get wins.
"If we get a win next week hopefully it puts us in the frame going into the last game.
"There is no doubt we have got to pick ourselves up. We have two weeks to get back into it, recover, and get back into Parma and get a really good win and put pressure on the ones above us now."
It's the second time this season that Connacht have been hoodwinked by the powerful Warriors.
That in itself is nothing shameful, as Lam reminded us Connacht have the smallest budget, the smallest squad and the least amount of internationals.
Injuries have certainly take their toll on the Westerners too. The loss of Nathan White, Mick Kearney, Willie Faloon and Jake Heenan has weakened the pack, while Craig Ronaldson's consistent injury problems and Kieran Marmion's struggles to find his best form since his return from injury have left the backs understrength.
But the blame of this defeat lays firmly at Connacht's door. Their tactics and place-kicking was inaccurate, especially in the second-half; they left try-scoring opportunities behind them; their lineout lost three of its own throws; their more powerful scrum also failed to gain the upper hand; and a splintered defensive line cost their side tries.
"There was (errors)," admitted Lam.
"We talk about line speed, but ultimately you can go up to a guy and if a person missed a tackle then it comes down to the one-on-ones. We'll go through and have a look at that."
The chances to pick up wins are running out for Connacht though, and they badly need to finish the season unbeaten to lift spirits and expectations again.
Connacht - T O'Halloran (D Leader 55); D Poolman, R Henshaw, B Aki, M Healy; J Carty (M Nikora 63), K Marmion (J Cooney 51); D Buckley (R Loughney 69), T McCartney (S Delahunt 75), R Ah You ( F Bealham 69); U Dillane (A Browne 53), A Muldowney; J Muldoon (capt), E Masterson (G Naoupu 60, E McKeon.
Glasgow - S Hogg; T Seymour, R Vernon, P Horne, N Matawalu (L Jones 71); F Russell (D Weir 78), H Pyrgos; J Yanuyanutawa (R Grant 40), F Brown (K Bryce 45), E Murray (J Welsh 40); L Nakarawa (T Swinson 55), J Gray (capt); R Harley (J Strauss 55) (P Murchie 73), C Fusaro, A Ashe.
Ref - M Mitrea (Italy)