Tuesday 25 September 2018

Keane must work on finding right balance

Connacht 15 Worcester 8

Connacht’s Kieran Marmion is tackled by Worcester’s Donncha O’Callaghan at the Sportsground Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Connacht’s Kieran Marmion is tackled by Worcester’s Donncha O’Callaghan at the Sportsground Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

There was a time when Connacht would have licked their lips at the prospect of playing in stormy conditions at the Sportsground, but those days are long gone.

They got the job done against Worcester on Saturday to go three points clear at the top of Challenge Cup Pool 5, but against better opposition the result might have been different.

Connacht's Craig Ronaldson is tackled by Wynand Olivier, left, and Jackson Willison of Worcester Warriors Photo: Sportsfile
Connacht's Craig Ronaldson is tackled by Wynand Olivier, left, and Jackson Willison of Worcester Warriors Photo: Sportsfile

Kieran Keane knew as much and while it is clear to see how the 63-year-old wants his side to play, they are in danger of forgetting their roots.

In full flight, Connacht have been thrilling to watch in recent seasons, but at times they are crying out for someone to step back into the pocket and play the percentages.

Opposition teams had figured out how to counteract Connacht's threat under Pat Lam; it's now up to Keane to devise a new, efficient strategy, because if they don't start making their dominance count on the scoreboard they will be punished.

Sloppy

On Saturday it was admirable to see the players looking to shift the ball at every opportunity, but time and time again sloppy errors punctured their momentum.

Matt Healy, right, is congratulated by his teammate Cian Kelleher of Connacht after scoring his side's second try Photo: Sportsfile
Matt Healy, right, is congratulated by his teammate Cian Kelleher of Connacht after scoring his side's second try Photo: Sportsfile

The players were seemingly reluctant to put boot to ball and on one of the few times they did, Jack Carty's clever dink through for Matt Healy to score sealed the victory.

The first try from Eoghan Masterson was a microcosm of what Connacht's blistering running game is all about when they get it right, but it was an all-too-rare moment of quality in horrendous conditions.

Munster arrive in Galway on Friday and as well as a mounting injury list to contend with, Keane is fully aware that a similar performance will not be good enough.

Playing in the howling wind and rain is nothing new to Connacht and while they handled it better than Worcester did, they were at times naive in how they went about it.

"That was the disappointing aspect of it," Keane conceded.

"We are going to have to lift our standards to live with Munster. It's a tough day.

"The conditions weren't conducive to what we were hoping to be, and make that extra step up from what we had done the week before.

"The conditions in Geneva and Galway are chalk and cheese. It's tough and you have got to take that into consideration too."

Attempting to gain any real insight into how Keane ticks is a difficult task, but we press on and continue to try.

What has he learned in his first two months in the job?

"There are a numerous amount of things I have learned about the competition and I would like to keep them close to my chest."

Fair enough. Has anything surprised him thus far?

"Nothing that I would want to openly speak about to be honest, I would get shot for it."

Keane was happy to admit that his side had taken a step back in terms of their performance after last weekend's impressive win over Oyonnax.

Several players, including John Muldoon, Ultan Dillane and Finlay Bealham, were rested but are expected to return for the Munster clash.

However, Keane will be sweating over the fitness of several players, five of whom were taken off with knocks against Worcester.

It was Tiernan O'Halloran's electric pace that created Masterson's sixth-minute try, but the full-back followed James Connolly, Eoin Griffin, Quinn Roux and Dominic Robertson-McCoy to the treatment room.

These are difficult times for Worcester and they played like a team who are in trouble. Devoid of any real quality or obvious game-plan, they struggled.

In truth, it was Connacht's sloppiness that kept the Premiership's basement side in the contest and after coming off the bench Donncha O'Callaghan couldn't turn the tie.

The Munster and Ireland legend received a warm welcome from those who braved the elements at the Sportsground and it was clear that he enjoyed what could prove to be his last professional rugby game on home soil.

Carty added a penalty following Masterson's score for an 8-0 half-time lead, but Josh Adams' 51st-minute try, completely against the run of play, pegged Connacht back.

When they eventually went to their kicking game, Carty's clever thinking created the opening for Healy to ensure victory, despite a late Jono Lance penalty snatching a losing bonus point.

"I wouldn't call it a good performance, we got a good win," Keane added.

"I was pretty happy about the fact that we won, it probably would have been tragic had we had lost it, but I thought it was a slip back, to be honest.

"I was a bit disappointed with our level, I thought we were a bit average. People are getting opportunities, but not everybody is taking them.

"We lacked a little bit of composure and our skill set wasn't great. I thought we would be better.

"To come away with the two wins, I applaud them, but it would have been horrendous had we dropped either of those two games. So, there is light at the end of the tunnel, if you will."

Connacht will continue to improve under Keane, but striking the right balance between their running and kicking game will determine whether or not success follows.

Connacht : T O'Halloran (C Kelleher 55); D Leader, B Aki, E Griffin (C Ronaldson 27), M Healy; J Carty, C Blade (K Marmion, 54); D Buckley (P McCabe 72), D Heffernan (S Delahunt, 54), D Robertson-McCoy (C Carey 43); Q Roux (C Gallagher 49), J Cannon; E McKeon, J Connolly (J Butler 2), E Masterson (capt).
Worcester Warriors: C Pennell; T Howe (P Humphreys 58), W Oliver, J Willison, J Adams; J Lance, J Arr (M Dowsett 49-58, 69); E Walker (R Bowe 64), J Singleton (M Williams 69), G Milasinovich (S Kerrod 54); P Phillips (D O'Callaghan 64), W Spencer; D Denton, A Faosoliva, GJ van Velze (capt) (H Taylor 54)
REF - I Davies (Wales)

Irish Independent

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