Connacht find themselves in unchartered territory as they await their first-ever Champions Cup knockout game in April.
Many fans out west might have let off a groan or two after hearing Leinster will be their inevitable opponents, but any Round of 16 matchup offers a stiff test.
Over the past few months, Connacht have been playing a widely regarded exciting style of rugby. Some issues need to be addressed, however, as they've been on the losing end of several close games.
But things haven't looked much brighter for a province that has been devoid of knockout competition in Europe's big one since they first competed in it in 2011.
Connacht's Power Play
Regarding their hosting of Leinster on April 8th - the Westerners have stood their ground in deciding to keep the game at their preferred home territory of The Sportsground.
The 8,129 capacity crowd probably could be sold three or four times over that figure. Nonetheless, they're set on welcoming Leinster to their intimate stronghold.
In his column for the Irish Examiner, Ronan O'Gara questioned the move and feels they could have approached the GAA about possibly having it in Pearse Stadium or MacHale Park.
"While it’s laudable and done for the right reasons," O'Gara said, "It is the correct decision? If this isn’t strictly a ‘one off’, it is also a massive opportunity to grow the game in the province."
"If they haven’t been talking to the GAA about Pearse Stadium in Galway or MacHale Park in Castlebar, then I’m not sure they’ve looked properly at the bigger picture."
The two stadiums mentioned have a capacity of 25,000+ which would obviously allow for more fans. It would be a rare occasion for a rugby match to take place in a GAA stadium outside of Dublin.
O'Gara seemed to be interested in the thought process of Connacht and why they didn't go for another option. He doesn't see it as off-putting for Leinster.
"It's hardly an inexperienced Leinster side that will travel to the Sportsground, so there’s no material advantage there," O'Gara commented.
"I’d love to get Andy Friend’s thoughts on this: is there a contradiction in that decision with the way Connacht are playing now under Andy? Would their skill levels be better suited on a superior quality surface? A fast pitch would suit them."
— Balls.ie (@ballsdotie) January 26, 2022
We're almost a week removed from another comeback loss for Connacht in Europe. Their 37-31 defeat to Stade Stade Français was well within their grasp.
A United Rugby Championship meeting with Glasgow is ahead of them on Saturday. A competition they've had some success in but also some failures.
With the Leinster game looming and many provincial teams fielding an under-strength squad due to the Six Nations, O'Gara thinks they should be held accountable.
"Let’s be fair, if that was Leinster or Munster, and they lost again last weekend - as they did in Leicester - they’d be absolutely slated for blowing up against 14 men," he remarked.
It seems like The Sportsground will be the venue come April but there are still several weeks for changes to be made before tickets go on general sale.
"If Connacht took that Leinster game to Pearse Stadium," O'Gara continued. "And secured a money-spinning first leg, it might be the difference between getting an extra quality signing or not. And they could do with that."