Home advantage is having a massive impact on this year’s Magners League, says Connacht boss Michael Bradley.
Bradley believes that playing at your own ground is becoming more important than ever as the Magners League gets tighter and tighter.
And the stats would seem to suggest that Bradley knows what he is talking about.
Of the 126 games played in the Magners League this so far this season, only 18 have been won by the away side.
That’s an away win percentage of less than 15 percent and equates to one away victory in just under seven Magners League matches.
Unfortunately for Bradley, his Connacht side have the worst away record of the 10 teams in the league.
Connacht are yet to win a league fixture outside Galway this season and it’s that poor away form that sees them prop up the table.
When it comes to winning on their own patch, however, it’s a different story.
Connacht have won three and drawn one of their six encounters at The Sportsground, proving that they can mix it with the best in the West of Ireland.
“I think home advantage is an interesting dimension to it,” said Bradley, whose side face Leinster in Dublin on Saturday having eased past the Dragons 16-3 at home last time out.
“You have to understand that when you travel away it’s very difficult.
“If you go back to the Top 14 in France a couple of years ago, it was very similar.
“If you put the yardstick as someone like Munster and Leinster, well Munster have only won one match away from home this year and they’ve lost the rest of them.”
Connacht always looked in control in their most-recent Magners League outing in Galway against a Dragons side that could have jumped to the top of the table with a bonus-point win.
The result showed just how little there is between the teams at the head and foot of the table, with the importance of home advantage again not lost on Bradley.
“The Sportsground is a difficult place to come…the Dragons were excellent against Munster. They were phenomenal. I think that was probably the best performance I’ve seen and they should have got four tries and a bonus point.
“The fact that we were playing at home, we have our support putting pressure on the referee and that’s always a factor. You go to the Dragons and it’s the reverse.
“If you get a bit of momentum at home – we haven’t lost at home since September – that’s good.
“We had a poor outing in September when we lost to the Ospreys and were then well turned over by Ulster, but since then we’ve won or drawn all our matches.
“The lads were talking about themselves in the dressing room after the Dragons game that if we win the remainder of our home matches we’ve got a great shout of qualifying for Europe via the Magners League and we’ll be in the final of the Amlin Challenge Cup.
“That’s a good target for us. That would be fantastic. It would be progression.”
As if the result against the Dragons wasn’t pleasing enough for Bradley and co, the performance itself drew just as many plaudits.
Connacht played with a huge amount of commitment, were first to most of the loose balls and generally looked the hungrier of the two sides, both of whom are known for their battling qualities.
But while their tenacity undoubtedly stood out, Bradley’s men also played some impressive, free-flowing rugby, changing the point of attack and never allowing the Dragons defence to settle into a routine.
Bradley will be leaving Connacht after seven years with the club at the end of this term but he is convinced that the current crop of players, and a new-found confidence, will ensure new coach Eric Elwood has plenty to look forward to.
“The Dragons game was an important result for us bearing in mind that our last two outings in the Magners League. We didn’t take our chances against the Ospreys over there and we didn’t take our chances when they were presented to us against Glasgow.
“With the Dragons having had an excellent win against Munster and their confidence riding high, they presented a good challenge for us.
“We seemed to get on top of them early in terms of being a little bit sharper, and we kicked on from there.
“We didn’t take all our chances but we created enough, probably more than the Dragons.
“The lads are growing in confidence. They’re putting together very good spells of play. You saw some of that against the Dragons when we held on to the ball and put some pace into the game.
“They’re taking a bit of ownership the players are, and when you see that in a dressing room that’s a good sign. We might not get there this year but it’s progression and progression’s important.”