Connacht have had something of a dream season so far but the giants from Galway now face their toughest test yet as they welcome reigning champions Glasgow Warriors to town with a place in the PRO12 final on the line.
Despite enjoying less success than the other Irish provinces – their previous highest PRO12 finish was seventh last season – Connacht have been fantastic in finishing second in the regular-season table to reach the semi-finals for the first time.
They narrowly beat the Warriors 14-7 on the final day two weeks ago to jump up to second, meaning the Sportsground will become the eighth different venue to host a PRO12 play-off.
No away side has ever won a semi-final in the competition and the omens are even better for Connacht with their last five league matches having been won by the home side on the day.
In fact Pat Lam’s men have lost just one match in Galway, in any competition, all season – that being a 10-3 loss to Ulster back in December.
Needless to say, the Connacht faithful who pack the stands have enjoyed many special days watching the side this year but Lam is now targeting one more, although he knows the magnitude of the task in front of them.
“We are under no illusions when it comes to the challenge we face against the defending champions Glasgow who are stacked with players with plenty of experience of Test match and knockout rugby,” Lam said.
“We know they will be much stronger than they were two weeks ago but if we channel our physicality and the excitement into our game, we will be able to meet that challenge head on.
“It’s an exciting time for everyone involved in Connacht Rugby as we head into our first-ever PRO12 semi-final.
“The reason we’ve had such a good record at home this season is the special atmosphere generated by our supporters and we’re all looking to give them another special day to remember in our last home game of the season.”
Having lifted the trophy last year, the Warriors are looking to become only the second side after Leinster in 2014 to retain the PRO12 title while they had a eight-match winning streak against Connacht until the 14-7 loss a fortnight ago.
That defeat would appear to hand a psychological advantage to Connacht but Glasgow head coach Gregor Townsend disagrees.
“It was the best thing that could have happened to us. You learn more from defeat,” said Townsend.
“You do get confidence from victories but you find out how to be better after a loss. Things get put through the magnifying glass.
“We’ve had two weeks’ preparation to put things right. It would have been better for the club and our supporters to have been at home but having that defeat has really sharpened our focus.
“Our preparation has been better than normal because the team we just lost to, and who we want to put a few things right against, is who we play in the next game.
“We will learn from where we could be better and try to get our strengths out. But whether you are home or away, these games are always going to be tough.”