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Tough menu of games means Connacht need big win or risk losing ground

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Connacht head coach Andy Friend. Photo: Sportsfile

Connacht head coach Andy Friend. Photo: Sportsfile

Connacht head coach Andy Friend. Photo: Sportsfile

On paper, Connacht checked out of 2020 in a pretty good place. Second in Conference B with a couple of games in hand, Andy Friend's side enter the New Year in control of their own destiny.

A closer look, however, shows the Western province are in the midst of a horrendously difficult run of games and, having lost their most winnable match of the series at home to Ulster last Sunday, they are now en route to Dublin in need of a result.

Two years ago, they came within a late Andrew Porter try of a historic win at the RDS but otherwise it has been an unhappy hunting ground for the men in green whose reward for edging into the Heineken Champions Cup was arguably the toughest available draw against Racing 92 and Bristol Bears.

Defeats in those matches and the fall-out from Paul Boyle's late decision to go for a try when the posts would have secured a bonus point meant they lurched into the Christmas interpros with no momentum.

Impressive

Last weekend's performance against Ulster had some impressive moments but ultimately the home side were outsmarted by their visitors who were without 17 of their more established players.

Connacht's position in second is far from secure. They sit on 20 points, ahead of Scarlets on points difference and Cardiff by a point.

Both of those teams have winnable home derbies this weekend, but Connacht do have a game in hand.

They face a busy Six Nations period as their refixed games come around, but this weekend's visit to Dublin and the home game against Munster - a fixture they traditionally struggle with are followed by European dead rubbers against teams chasing play-off places.

If they can't pick up a result along the way, they face rolling into that all-important period on the back of a seven-game losing streak.

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Which, considering all of the progress that's been made under Friend and their decent league position, would be a tough place to be.

They've shown in the past that they can trouble Leinster, but the Blues have been untouchable in the PRO14 this season.

With the play-offs curtailed and Munster holding a seemingly unassailable 12-point lead in Conference B, Connacht's main mission is putting themselves in the European frame next season and no one quite knows yet what that will require.

If, like last year, a top-four finish will suffice then they're in good shape but if they need top three then they'll need results.


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