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Connacht must fix leadership issues to regain their home rule

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Abraham Papalii. Photo: Sportsfile

Abraham Papalii. Photo: Sportsfile

Abraham Papalii. Photo: Sportsfile

There was a time when Connacht's home form was so poor, few people bothered to take any notice of it.

Then again, there was a time when few people bothered to take any notice of Connacht.

Their current four-game losing streak at home is their worst in seven seasons but, ever since winning the title in 2016 under Pat Lam, expectations have correctly shifted.

People demand more.

Then again, the last time they endured such a run might provide some succour as they seek to navigate their way out of another mid-season slump.

In Lam's first season, Connacht lost four home games on the spin in an eight-match losing league run; two years later, they were champions.

There were many learnings, as sporting types like to say, and Lam needed to develop the teachings to pull his squad through.

Flourish

They got there eventually. The key bedrock was a collective system based on personal accountability. Everyone stayed on script - only then could an individual flourish.

Connacht's current problem stems from those Lam first identified. The current squad is just as talented as the 2016 model but too many players are going off script. And every time it seems like they find a solution, another problem crops up. Frustratingly, it is often the same one as before.

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This field is required

Take Sunday's defeat to Ospreys. Before half-time, they made two crucial game-management calls and scored a try which put them up 17-5.

"I was really pleased because it was the opposite of what happened the last time, it showed our discussions bore dividends," mused Friend, referencing the endgame brain implosion that cost them a shot at a win a fortnight earlier.

"Failure is only failure if you don't learn."

He wouldn't want to have seen what happened at the end of the next half, as his side improbably chased a game that should have been well out of sight long before then.

For, when Abraham Papali'i decided to tap and go, before being inevitably turned over because nobody else was tuned in, Friend, as coaches are bafflingly wont to do, was already walking to the dressing-room and wasn't watching.

When he looked again, instead of attacking from five metres out, they were defending a lineout on their 10-metre line and wouldn't touch the ball again.

"I have to thank you for pointing that out because I didn't know what the hell was going on," he said later.

The luckless back-rower is not alone; Connacht's talents are being undermined by fatal indecisions on the field.

The western province are lacking coherent leadership on it and, as Friend and his Connacht coaching staff must now discern, perhaps there are also deficiencies off it in terms of how leadership is being assigned.

Structural faults - defence, in open play and in the maul, a second-half implosion of the set-piece - are fixable elements as the coaching cohorts like to say.

But changing the mindset is proving elusive.

"We need to find the solution quickly," stressed Friend.


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