Wednesday 26 October 2016

We've lost great players, but they can be replaced

Smart signings will ensure Lam's men can cope without Henshaw and Muldowney

Johnny O'Connor

Published 02/09/2016 | 02:30

Shrewd signings like Cian Kelleher can help Connacht defend their title. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Shrewd signings like Cian Kelleher can help Connacht defend their title. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
John Muldoon lifts the Pro12 trophy. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

It's the dream fixture for Connacht to kick off the defence of their Pro12 crown when they host Glasgow at the Sportsground tomorrow evening.

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The Pro12 often begins with a whimper, but with Sky Sports in Galway and the 2015 champions coming to town, it will be a massive game for both sides.

Connacht have beaten Glasgow two times in a row, and as Dan McFarland returns again, there is huge interest around this match.

Normally the crowds don't start to file in until the stakes get higher for the inter-provincial games, the European ties or the matches towards the end of the season, but this is ideal.

A win over Glasgow would give Connacht great momentum starting up too, and I don't see any reason why they won't be able to take the victory on their home turf.

There was little movement in the market during the summer, but Connacht did lose two influential players, with Robbie Henshaw and Aly Muldowney moving on. Every club in world rugby would have been keen to sign Robbie, and Aly is another great player, but both can be replaced.

How we perceive the loss of them is important.

Don't get me wrong, Aly was a quality signing and was the backbone of the team's success last season, especially with how the game-plan was implemented around him.

But he was just one part of the jigsaw puzzle. He has a certain skill-set and that can be found elsewhere in the team. Players can be trained up to do the same tasks as long as they have the mental capabilities.

Lewis Stevenson is a smart acquisition in that sense, and he is surely going to be given that task from game to game.

And bringing in Cian Kelleher could be a shrewd piece of business as he looks to have the potential to be a great player in the future.

I have not seen much of him yet, but he scored a try on his debut, and he seems to be the real deal. He is very young and has the perfect age-profile to fit into the Connacht backline. The fact that he can play at centre is an added advantage and it will be interesting to see whether he gets much of a look-in in the coming weeks.


Marnitz Boshoff is the marquee signing. But like Kelleher he will have to fight for his place, and Jack Carty could well keep him out if he can get a run of games at the start of the season.

With a player like Boshoff coming in it doesn't necessarily mean he has to start to make a ground-breaking arrival. It's his influence behind the scenes that could do wonders; a Springbok international is an asset to any squad and with his high kicking averages he could be a crucial part of the team.

From a game-plan perspective Connacht will need to tweak little things in order to keep themselves relevant and compete at the top end of the league this year.

They know that the performances of last season won't be enough to win the Pro12 this time around, and they are in the right head space to keep improving.

I like when I hear players coming out with the lines that they are the Pro12 champions from 2016 but that is in the past now and they need to focus on this season. It's easy to say it but to do it is another thing, and the players will need to hit the ground running against Glasgow.

I don't see Connacht falling victim to complacency and we will see straight away what they are like when they take to the field tomorrow.

They could have done with a few more games in pre-season, but the Montpellier game seemed to be a good hit-out and the players appear to be on top of their game.

Last season was an absolute sensation, and it would be great for Connacht too keep the free-flowing rugby going, backed by the wins on the pitch.

But consistency is key and the academy guys will play a big role again this season as the squad gets stretched during the European campaign and when the internationals come around.

But the encouraging signs are everywhere; last season Connacht had a very young squad, add another year of success and experience to each player's portfolio and things look very interesting.

Irish Independent

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