CONNACHT are on the cusp of writing another little piece of history.
You wouldn’t think it, what with the doom and gloom that has descended on College Road due to poor league form, a rotten run of injuries, and the shock decision by Pat Lam to leave for pastures new at the end of the season, which must still be sinking in.
But if Connacht regroups, and beats Zebre on Saturday at the Sportsground (1pm), then it will be the first time ever the province will have won four Champions Cup matches in the same season.
Better still, it puts them slap-bang on target for another history-making feat – qualification for the knockout stages of European club rugby’s premier competition.
Beat Zebre and then get something out of the trip to Toulouse the following week and Connacht’s season will be saved, regardless of their placing in the league, where they are currently languishing in eighth.
After suffering another loss last weekend away against Ospreys – the third on the trot – Connacht’s hopes of making the top four have all but been extinguished. The chances of finishing top-six are fading rapidly, too.
Best they can hope for now, to try and salvage the season, is breaking new ground by qualifying for the quarter final of the Champions Cup; and hoping to secure a play-off place in the league, which would at least give them a chance of returning to top-flight cup rugby next year.
First up is the Italians and anything less than a win, with a try bonus, is not acceptable. This is a team that will have targeted Connacht and this fixture from a long way out, but they looked hapless, despite a good start, in conceding 10 tries in defeat to Leinster at the RDS last Friday.
It was embarrassing stuff; every bit as embarrassing as the 6-70 score line suggests. Zebre will bring a backlash to Galway but even an understrength Connacht should have far too much nous for Gianluca Guidi’s struggling side, who have won just once in both competitions this season.
Ireland scrum-half, Kieran Marmion, who was rested for IRFU protocols last weekend, is aware that it is essential that Connacht breaks the visitors’ spirit, and denies them a foothold, if they are to maintain a 100%-win record against Zebre.
“They definitely always front up against us. They probably come over here and see it as a bit of an opportunity for them. When they played Leinster at the weekend they went a few scores behind and probably rolled over and died a bit in that game. But as long as they’re in with a chance of winning, they always fight until the end. I mean, it is crucial in this game that we score and then score again and try and put them out of reach,” said Marmion.
Forwards coach, Jimmy Duffy, also highlighted the importance of Connacht settling into their rhythm early against a Zebre outfit that is likely to throw the kitchen sink at them for the first 20 minutes at least.
Duffy doesn’t subscribe to the view that the expectation of a handy bonus point win heaps more pressure on Connacht. And despite the bookies’ odds suggesting the home side will win with 30-points to spare, he insisted Connacht was taking Zebre seriously.
For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.