Sunday 21 October 2018

Connacht need to finish on a high

Muldoon deserves proper send-off after soldiering for so many years

Kieran Marmion
Kieran Marmion

Noel Mannion

Losing the make-or-break Challenge Cup quarter-final against Gloucester was a terrible result but the team must now regroup for a tough end to 2017-18. John Muldoon deserves a proper send-off if nothing else.

When Connacht were landed with Gloucester in the quarter-finals it seemed like a relatively good draw, even allowing for some patchy performances in the lead-up to the game.

Connacht had a big win against Benetton in Italy and then did well in defeat away to the Cheetahs. Their loss to Edinburgh even showed signs of improvement, and you expected a big performance in such an important game.

This was a crucial tie for the province, from a financial point of view with the hope of trying to qualify for the Champions Cup next year, and then just from a momentum point of view as well.

Connacht have been very poor in the PRO14 this season and they needed something to get their season rolling in the right direction.

They couldn't have asked for a better occasion either. The conditions were perfect and there was a magnificent atmosphere at a raucous Sportsground.

I had watched Gloucester play a number of times in the Premiership this season and even though they looked in the play-off picture for a while, they weren't a team that would overwhelm Connacht.

Last Saturday they didn't overrun Connacht but they did control that game from start to finish, apart from a few minor blips along the way.

The play was very broken up early on and Connacht had a very favourable penalty count with Ben Morgan also going to the sin-bin. But Connacht didn't take enough advantage and they had already conceded the sloppy early try.

Connacht did well in the scrum and lineout for most of the game but they couldn't gain a stranglehold outside of that. They were constantly chasing Gloucester on the scoreboard too.

Connacht didn't have the same energy and vitality that they normally take from big games in the Sportsground. They had to live off scraps, and you expected more considering it would turn out to be Muldoon's last Challenge Cup game.

Massive

But this game was a massive opportunity for Connacht to go and win silverware in Europe. It wasn't a final, but the final four has a bit of an average look to it, and Connacht could compete with any of the remaining sides.

Connacht didn't do enough to deserve the win though, and the crowd could sense there was something missing from their performance. The energy was zapped from them too after they gave the players a fantastic reception, and tried their best when the scores went in.

The Connacht fans were desperate for a big display from their players after such a difficult season so far, but they didn't get what they wanted.

Connacht needed to play for territory especially in the second half. Jack Carty knows the Sportsground better than anyone and should have been able to judge the conditions better.

Connacht needed to pin Gloucester down in the College Road corner. It's notoriously difficult to escape from but the English side were let off the hook. Instead they used it to their advantage in the first half and that might have been down David Humphreys's nous.

But from the wonderful victory over Ulster at the Sportsground over the Christmas, it's unacceptable for Connacht to have such a fall-off in performance levels, and now they are in a massive hole.

I don't know where Connacht go from here in terms of 2017-18. This season looks lost, and Champions Cup rugby seems way off and out of their hands at this stage.

But what they can do is go to Ospreys this weekend and secure a bonus-point win to give themselves some chance in the run-in.

Connacht only have three games left in the PRO14 this season and they need to win all three to have any chance of retrieving an ailing campaign.

However, a massive part of this now is making sure they give someone like Muldoon the correct send-off.

Irish Independent

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