CONNACHT chief executive Gerry Kelly admits that these are "worrying" times for the province, who take on Gloucester in the Heineken Cup at Kingsholm this afternoon bidding to end a nine-match losing run.
Last weekend's defeat to Gloucester at the Sportsground, the most manageable of their Heineken Cup pool fixtures, was especially dispiriting as Connacht had chances to take the game but lost focus in the visitors' '22'.
Having attracted a crowd of more than 9,000 to the ground for the previous round against Toulouse, barely 5,000 showed up for the Gloucester match, and Kelly conceded that all the good work taking place off the pitch is being undone by poor results.
"I was disappointed with the crowd last weekend," admitted Kelly. "It was hard to understand, but I suppose the lack of success in recent weeks is taking its toll. The game was there for the taking but we just couldn't close it out.
"It is getting to a worrying stage and the fixture list is pretty tough: we have Gloucester away then Munster, Leinster, Aironi away, Toulouse and Harlequins -- all hard matches.
"We have a small squad so any injuries really hurt us. We are trying to get things right off the pitch and I think there has been great work done there, we just need the results to back it up," he added. "We need to improve the squad; if we can do that, then the results will follow that's the message I am bringing to meetings with the IRFU because we have shown that there is an appetite for the game in the province."
One area of good news this week was the re-signing to two up-and-coming talents, Eoin Griffin and David McSharry, and two established back-row warriors, John Muldoon and Johnny O'Connor, who have committed their futures to the province. All four are included in Eric Elwood's side today, but seeking that critical run-ending victory at a venue like Kingsholm is a big ask.
Gloucester coach Bryan Redpath is confident enough to rotate his team, with two new props and a new half-back combination, while Mike Tindall is restored to the centre after overcoming a groin injury.
"We know that Connacht will not be coming here just to lie down," said Redpath. "Conditions are not looking great, which is a great leveller, and we're going to have to be mentally strong."
However, with Connacht's confidence so low, Gloucester look well set up for back-to-back wins. The visitors' best chance lies in a 'nothing to lose' approach, where they seek to rattle Gloucester from the off.
It will require a degree of clinical execution that has been sorely lacking in recent times, but if Connacht can take their chances, they could emerge with a losing bonus.
GLOUCESTER -- O Morgan; C Sharples, M Tindall, E Fuimaono-Sapolu, J Simpson-Daniel; T Taylor, N Runciman; D Murphy, S Lawson, R Harden, P Buxton, J Hamilton, B Deacon, A Hazell, L Narraway (capt) Reps: M Cortese, N Wood, S Knight, W James, A Qera, R Lawson, F Burns, J May.
CONNACHT -- G Duffy (capt); M McCrea, E Griffin, D McSharry, T O'Halloran; N O'Connor, F Murphy; B Wilkinson, E Reynecke, R Loughney; G Naoupu, M McCarthy; D Gannon, J O'Connor, J Muldoon. Reps: A Flavin, D Rogers, R Ah You, M Kearney, E McKeon, P O'Donohoe, M Jarvis, K Tonetti.
REF -- L Hodges (Wales).
Gloucester v Connacht,
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