Saturday 23 September 2017

Exciting times ahead

Keane set for tricky start but signs look good

Exciting new signing Rory Scholes touches down. Picture:Sportsfile
Exciting new signing Rory Scholes touches down. Picture:Sportsfile

Ronan Loughney

Making the transition from player to spectator this year will make for an interesting season for me, but I'm excited about what lies ahead.

While my body is thankful not to be going through the rigours of pre-season training for the first time in 12 years and facing into another tough season, I've no doubt I will be a bit emotional when the first competitive fixture kicks off tomorrow.

In my role as analyst with TG4 I will be trying to remain objective, but I think this will be a very exciting year at Connacht Rugby for players and supporters.

Kieran Keane's tenure has gotten off to a bright start in pre-season and after a decent first half against Wasps, the lads will be happy after their win over Bristol.

Pat Lam's return to the Sportsground was another opportunity for players to put their hands up for selection for the season's opener.

It is usually wise not to read too much into pre-season results, nevertheless everyone will gain confidence from the manner of the win.

With the arrival of the New Zealander comes a new approach, game plan and style of play. By the looks of it the game plan will be slightly less structured than before, but allow players more responsibility in decision making.

A structured game plan worked well for us in recent years. Once everyone got around to the same way of thinking, knowing that they just had to look after their specific role within the plan, with the right people in the right places, we functioned well as a unit.

If things were going badly you always just reverted back to the structure.

The trade off to sticking to such a tight structure is that your instincts as a player can be constrained.

When you are playing in a less-structured system, if things aren't going well it's then that you'll need leaders to step up and make the big plays when the team's back is against the wall.

When I talk about leaders, I'm not just talking about John Muldoon and the senior players.

This year I hope to see some of the younger guys developing in their roles as leaders. Mul will not play forever, so it's up to the likes of Sean O'Brien, Eoghan Masterson and Ultan Dillane to play a big part going forward on and off the pitch.

RETURNING

With a new coach, new faces and lads returning from injury, it appears as if competition will be fierce. In my old slot, Peter McCabe had a good day against Bristol and got in for a try, while the arrival of Denis Coulson is another boost.

As a coach you want to be making tight calls on starting slots each week, and with that comes the luxury of being able to rotate players and keep guys fresh. With the new additions in the front-row and with youngsters like Conan O'Donnell and Conor Kenny chomping at the bit, hopefully the new boss can change things.

Two years ago that addition of youth early in the season was a big benefit. The game-time players such as Sean, Ultan and Niyi Adeolokun amassed early in the season benefited us massively in the closing stages of the year, so hopefully we'll see the next handful of players getting their chance in the coming weeks.

With Glasgow up first tomorrow, many minds will flash back 12 months previous when they did a job on us. I remember speaking to Dan McFarland after that game and he talked about the preparation and effort they had put into that game and how they were still hurting from the two losses at the end of the previous season.

They may not be bringing that same hurt as motivation this time around, but, when you consider that 19 of their squad were in a recent Scotland camp - only three of those uncapped - they are a top side with a slew of internationals.

Like Connacht, they'll have been trying to settle in to different systems under a new coach in Dave Rennie. It will be interesting to see how the two teams adapt to the coaching philosophies of two coaches who were previously so closely aligned.

But be in no doubt, this is a really tough opener, and if Connacht can take a win from tomorrow, it'll be a dream start.

Irish Independent

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