| 6°C Dublin

Toulouse trip ideal way to lift Connacht says Swift

CONNACHT'S mascot goes by the name of 'Eddie The Eagle' and, given the province's current travails, perhaps Emmet or Enda would have been a better moniker.

Eddie 'The Eagle' Edwards was the British ski-jumper who earned worldwide renown at the 1988 Winter Olympics for being, well, chronic -- admitting afterwards he was scared of jumping from such heights.

Connacht are in danger of becoming similar figures of fun on the European circuit and have reason to be fearful when they run out against Toulouse in the Stade Ernest Wallon today.

They go into the fixture on the back of a disastrous defeat in Aironi and, while allowing for the consistent theme of lack of resources, that performance was embarrassing.

That does not excuse the post-match comments of backs coach Billy Millard but, while the Australian should have kept his verbal flaying for the privacy of the dressing-room, he was not wrong when describing the performance as "unacceptable".

This is a chance to restore some pride. A 14th defeat on the bounce looks inevitable against a Toulouse side containing a bewildering array of world-class talents from Maxime Medard at the back, through Luke McAlister and Luke Burgess at half-back, down to World Player of the Year Thierry Dusautoir on the open-side flank.

The fact that Guy Noves' men need to get their Heineken Cup campaign back on schedule after losing at home to Harlequins does not help the visitors, and Toulouse have backlashed their way to three convincing Top 14 victories since that Quins reverse.

No one expects anything of Connacht and they could take heed of the old truism that when you are rock bottom, the only way is up.

There are nuggets of encouragement -- balance in the back-row with John Muldoon back in his best position of blindside flanker, Ray Ofisa at openside and George Naoupu at No 8, while second-rows Mike McCarthy and Michael Swift will leave nothing behind them.

Gavin Duffy may be captaining a sinking ship but the full-back is having a fine season and another stoic display would be a timely statement ahead of next week's Six Nations squad announcement.

Swift, Connacht's longest-serving player, is begging supporters not to abandon faith. "I met a lady in the coffee shop this week and she told me she was sick of the situation," he said.

"I was in a state of shock and I wished I could have explained to her that whatever she and the supporters are feeling, multiply that by 100 and that's what I am feeling now. All I can ask of supporters is to stick with us and we will turn it around."

If Connacht are going to go down, they have to go down swinging because the second shoulders slump in resignation, Toulouse will go to town with a combination of gaiety and ruthlessness.

Swift has adopted a nothing-to-lose approach and it is one that should be instilled in his colleagues.

"It is not the worst fixture in our current form. I see it as a positive," he said. "The expectations are not high, the pressure is off, I can't wait to play in Toulouse -- it will be an experience to savour. I know we will show up."

Let us hope so. Edge of the precipice, slippery slope -- the ski-jump metaphors are plentiful for Connacht this afternoon but, unlike the original 'Eagle', fear is not an option.

Verdict: Toulouse

TOULOUSE -- M Medard; V Clerc, Y David , F Fritz, T Matanavou; L McAlister, L Burgess; G Steenkamp, W Servat, C Johnston; Y Maestri, P Albacete; J Bouilhou, T Dusautoir (capt), L Picamoles. Reps: C Tolofua, J Poux, Y Montes, G Lamboley, J Doussain, L Beauxis, C Poitrenaud, S Sowerby.

CONNACHT -- G Duffy (capt); F Vainikolo, K Tonetti, D McSharry, T O'Halloran; N O'Connor, P O'Donohoe; B Wilkinson, A Flavin, D Rogers; M Swift, M McCarthy; J Muldoon, R Ofisa, G Naoupu. Reps: E Reynecke, D Buckley, S Maguire, M Kearney, E McKeon, D Moore, M Nikora, H Fa'afili.

REF -- W Barnes (England).

Toulouse v Connacht,

Live, Sky Sports via red button, 3.40

Irish Independent