It is crunch time for Connacht as they head to Wales for a second successive week with their Pro 12 qualification quest on the line.
Still holding that vital sixth place, but having lost their five-point advantage in last weekend’s loss to the chasing Scarlets, Connacht know a win against the Newport Gwent Dragons is essential.
Connacht won this corresponding fixture last season, but tomorrow they face a Dragons side pumped up after ending Leintser’s unbeaten 21 game run at the RDS.
“The Dragons will be brimming with confidence on their home patch after a big win last week and we know the challenge we face,” says coach Pat Lam.
Joe Schmidt’s Ireland team training at the Galway Sportsground this week did provide a fillip ahead of tomorrow’s challenge, but Lam says “the bottom line is we need to step it up as a team”.
“The guys worked extremely hard in what was a tough week’s training, but that work needs to be reflected in 80 minutes of team work on the field on Sunday.”
Lam has made three changes to his team with Craig Ronaldson returning from a quad injury to slot into the midfield alongside Dave McSharry, allowing Danie Poolman to revert to the wing with Niyi Adeolokun moving to the bench.
With Kieran Marmion injured, the on-loan Leinster scrumhalf John Cooney is back with Connacht and partners Jack Carty, while in the pack George Naoupu makes way 21-years-old No 8 Eoghan Masterson who makes his first start of the season.
Although sitting in 10th place with just 21 points, and having won just two of their last six home games, the Dragons pose a real danger to Connacht’s qualification hopes.
Unsurprisingly they have made only one change to the team that overcame Leinster by 16-14 last weekend with prop Boris Stankovich coming in for Owen Evans.
However Connacht have more to play for and it should reflect in a more disciplined and clinical performance.
“We sit in sixth place,” says Lam. “We have lost our safety net, we now have eight games, and every one is a final.”
D Leader, D Poolman, D McSharry C Ronaldson, M Healy, J Carty, J Cooney, D Buckley, T McCartney, N White, Q Roux, A Muldowney, J Muldoon (c), J Heenan, E Masterson.
Replacements: S Delahunt, R Ah You, F Bealham, M Kearney, G Naoupu, I Porter, N Adeolokun, T O’Halloran.
J Tovey, T Prydie, P Leach, J Dixon, H Amos, D Jones, J Evans, B Stankovich, T Thomas, B Harris, A Coombs, R Landman (c), J Thomas, N Cudd, N Crosswell.
Replacements: R Buckley, P Price, D Way, I Gough, J Benjamin, R Rees, A Smith, M Pewtner.