THE Edinburgh squad need only look back as far as mid-September and the second match of the current season if they need any reminder of how important it is that they are completely switched-on to the dangers which lie in store when they visit the Sportsground in Galway to take on Connacht this Friday evening.
The last time these two teams met, Edinburgh had home advantage and were coming off the back of an impressive 14-13 victory away to mighty Munster in their opening match of the campaign. They were expected to win at a canter against the perennial poor relation of Irish provincial rugby, but things did not pan out as expected, with a late try from Willie Faloon securing a narrow 14-13 victory for the visitors.
Given that Edinburgh are going into this return fixture on a high after another morale-boosting success – this time against arch-rivals Glasgow Warriors at Murrayfield four days ago – you can’t help but worry about the possibility that history might be about to repeat itself.
The fact that Connacht have continued to confound expectations after taking that early season scalp and currently sit two places ahead of Edinburgh in sixth position on the Guinness Pro 12 table adds to the sense of trepidation.
The Connacht squad may not be packed with the household names which dominate the rosters of Leinster, Munster and Ulster, but former Scotland forwards coach Pat Lam has built a well-drilled and hungry fighting unit and they are unbeaten at home this season. Both Leinster and Munster have visited Galway in recent months and left with tails between their legs.
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All of which adds up to a monumental challenge lying in store for Alan Solomons’ resurgent squad – and forwards coach Stevie Scott says he is delighted that the form of the Irishmen this season has forced his charges to focus their minds on the task in hand.
“The memory of that last game still hurts, if I’m being honest. If we had won that game we would have been unbeaten at home this season. We didn’t play well at all that day, so we know we need to do better this time round,” he says. “Connacht are seen as a development team and that’s what seems to drive them on, because they think they are better than that and I’m inclined to agree.
“They are a tight group and they work hard for each other, so we need to be at our best to get a result.
“The first thing I said to the forwards this morning was how delighted I was with the heart and desire that they showed to win that game on Friday, but then I reminded them that we’ve been here before and this time we need to make sure we learn about the things we need to do better and build on the things we did well.
“The first thing you need when you go to Galway is a strong set-piece and a good kicking game to give us territory. Both those things were good for us last weekend, but that doesn’t mean we can take our foot off the accelerator in terms of making sure we are ready to go again.”
Scott did his best to keep a grin in check, but you couldn’t blame the former Scotland hooker for exhibiting a certain level of self-satisfaction after watching the pack that he has drilled since summer of 2013 totally dominate their highly-rated rivals from the west.
It was a performance that provided Scott – and his often maligned head coach Solomons – with the sort of validation that they must have been secretly praying for. Grave doubts have been expressed in recent months about the direction the club is moving in under their stewardship, with the recruitment of a raft of southern hemisphere players in place of home-grown talent a serious cause for concern.
“When you look at big games it’s the small details that are important. It’s not a case of not having the heart, I mean these boys are passionate about playing for Edinburgh and they are a tight group of players who work hard for each other, but it takes time to pull it together,” said Scott.
“I think the boys responded superbly from where we were last week, and the belief they showed to win that game was excellent. I think we were dominant in all aspects of the game.”
“The first two scrums went against us and for the pack to turn it around and become really dominant in that area by the end of the game was really pleasing for me.
“So, we’ve enjoyed the weekend but it’s back to work today. We need to make sure we build on that result. We know we’ll find it very tough on Friday night. It’s a really difficult place to go – there never seems to be anything apart from wind and rain there – and obviously they got one over Munster at the weekend so they’ll be in a good place. But so are we, and we are determined to stay in that good place – and we know we have to make it happen ourselves because nobody else is going to do it for us.”
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