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Connacht 'camaraderie' faces stern test from Nakarawa and Glasgow

The western province’s lack of Pro12 play-off experience is in contrast to Glasgow’s.

Connacht v Glasgow, Guinness Pro12 semi-finals

The Sportsground, 6.30pm, TG4/Sky Sports

WHILE GLASGOW HAVE been preparing for just another knock-out game, Connacht have had the demanding challenge of coping with the excitement and hype around their first-ever semi-final in the Pro12.

Pat Lam insisted this week that the circumstance around this game will not affect his players, but one has to think that the occasion adds a little extra for all concerned.

Pat Lam Pat Lam's men are set for their biggest test yet. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

That need not be a negative of course. Bundee Aki seems likely to thrive as the Scots look to spoil the seemingly endless party in Galway, while Kieran Marmion will be sniping at every opportunity.

Aly Muldowney’s decision-making and ferocity in contact should only grow in the pressure, while Robbie Henshaw must say a memorable goodbye to the province’s supporters in his final home game. Look all around and Lam will point to individuals willing to step up.

Systematically, Connacht are so well drilled that their attacking shape shouldn’t let them down either. Lam and assistant attack coach Conor McPhillips will have some fresh set-piece plays ready too.

We saw last night in the RDS what a confident knock-out team can do in these games, however, as the likes of Johnny Sexton and Jamie Heaslip stood out for Leinster. They’ve been there before and done it. Connacht’s emerging stars must learn on the job.

Dealing with the pressure is one thing, but dealing with Glasgow is another.

Leone Nakarawa’s octopus-like arms were limited by smart defending last time out in Galway, but Connacht will need to be razor sharp in that department again. One low, swift chop tackle needs to be followed rapidly by a high shot on the Fijian lock.

Even at that, he will still free the ball at times. Connacht must ensure that their defensive pressure means a loose offload rather than the kind that can free the likes of Simone Favaro and Tommy Seymour to wreak havoc.

Leone Nakarawa and Shane O’Leary Nakarawa was well managed last time out. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Similarly, the short kicking game of out-half Finn Russell is a threat to Connacht.

His chipping – so often a strength – was off key on the visit to Galway a fortnight ago, but Marmion and the back three cannot switch off in patrolling the space behind the frontline.

Russell is also adept in the art of the cross-field kick and Gregor Townsend will have noted with interest Connacht’s desire to shoot up hard on scrum defence with their centres and openside wing, leaving out-half AJ MacGinty to sweep in behind.

That defensive ploy opens a pocket of space wide on the outside edge and Russell will back himself to find it.

While Connacht stick firmly to their 2-4-2 shape in attack and use it as the basis for making good decisions, Glasgow are a little more fluid in their approach with ball in hand. There are structures there, but Townsend is even more willing to trust that his players’ basic skills will create opportunities.

The weather forecast for Galway is wavering between rain and sunshine depending on the source, but a fair day would make this a potential Pro12 classic.

Connacht are more aware than anyone that this will be their most demanding test yet, against a team that understands knock-out rugby in this competition and possesses a wide variety of attacking weapons.

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Lam’s men have their own armoury, however, and chief among it is the team spirit that drives everything they’ve done so far. The curious incident of the laptop in the Slí Burca estate was one of the most recent examples.

The Connacht team huddle before training Connacht huddle up in Galway. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“One of the things Pat talks about the most is that unity as a squad and building relationships with different players that you play with,” says prop Ronan Loughney.

“There’s a great team ethos and camaraderie among the lads, and for me it’s as good as it’s ever been since I’ve been here.

“That goes onto the pitch as well. Everybody’s got everybody’s back.”

Connacht

15. Tiernan O’Halloran
14. Niyi Adeolokun
13. Robbie Henshaw
12. Bundee Aki
11. Matt Healy
10. AJ MacGinty
9. Kieran Marmion

1. Ronan Loughney
2. Tom McCartney
3. Finlay Bealham
4. Ultan Dillane
5. Aly Muldowney
6. Eoin McKeon
7. Jake Heenan
8. John Muldoon (captain)

Replacements:

16. Dave Heffernan
17. JP Cooney
18. Rodney Ah You
19. Andrew Browne
20. Sean O’Brien
21. John Cooney
22. Shane O’Leary
23. Peter Robb

Glasgow Warriors:

15. Stuart Hogg
14. Tommy Seymour
13. Mark Bennett
12. Peter Horne
11. Sean Lamont
10. Finn Russell
9. Henry Pyrgos

1. Gordon Reid
2. Fraser Brown
3. Zander Fagerson
4. Leone Nakarawa
5. Jonny Gray (captain)
6. Ryan Wilson
7. Simone Favaro
8. Josh Strauss

Replacements:

16. Pat MacArthur
17. Ryan Grant
18. D’arcy Rae
19. Tim Swinson
20. Adam Ashe
21. Grayson Hart
22. Duncan Weir
23. Taqele Naiyaravoro

Referee: Marius Mitrea [FIR].

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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