Preview: Connacht v Gunners
The Gunners will head for West Ireland this weekend buoyed by both the result and the manner of their win last week. The victory over the Scarlets followed a four-game losing streak which put paid to the Gunners' hopes of winning the title. A match against bottom side Connacht therefore seems at first glance to be the perfect opportunity to maintain the upturn in Gunners' fortunes.
Connacht go into this match having won only two of their last five games, including a creditable away win at the Borders. However, they have won their last five home games, against the Dragons, the Scarlets, Montpellier, Ulster and Worcester. In fact you have to go back to December last year for their most recent home defeat, at the hands of Leinster, and the only other teams to have won in Galway this season are the Borders and Munster, both those victories coming early in the season. In other words, Connacht are no push-overs at home.
They also have motivation. This is the first of three successive home games with which Connacht will finish their season and, lying as they are only one point behind the Warriors, they know they have a realistic shot at climbing out of the basement. For a team that is a "development" side starved of funds by the IRFU, that would represent a major achievement.
For the Gunners too this is a vital game. Victory on the road would confirm that last week's performance was no flash-in-the-pan; defeat would cause all the doubts of recent weeks to re-surface. Although the Gunners have now qualified for next season's Heineken Cup, they still need to secure three points to guarantee they will finish as top Scottish side in the league. With an away match at the Dragons and a home finale against title-chasing Leinster, this looks like a good game to target for those vital points.
The omens too suggest this could be the one, with the Gunners having won on three of their four previous visits to the Sportsground, the only defeat being in September 2003. Curiously, matches between these two sides have generally been won by the visitors with Connacht having won two of three matches played in Edinburgh. That single defeat however was the match played early this season, which the Gunners won 34-3.
This is another of those games that really is too close to call. If this had been the first half of the season, the Gunners would have been favourites. Now though it all depends on just how solid and secure the Gunners revival is; the result this weekend will go a long way to telling us.