Wednesday 18 July 2018

Keane's boys look up for Challenge

European silverware is well within their capabilities

Caolin Blade of Connacht is tackled by Jérémy Scalese of Oyonnax during the Challenge Cup clash at the Stade de Geneve Stadium last weekend. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Caolin Blade of Connacht is tackled by Jérémy Scalese of Oyonnax during the Challenge Cup clash at the Stade de Geneve Stadium last weekend. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Noel Mannion

It was a great winning start to the Challenge Cup last weekend, but another victory is expected against Worcester Warriors tomorrow and then things will be coming together nicely for Connacht Rugby.

It all depends how Kieran Keane and the rest of the management set-up are looking at the Challenge Cup. Are they taking it seriously or focusing on the Guinness PRO14?

Judging on last weekend's game, and the team they put out there, it would appear that Keane is placing some focus on the tournament.

From a results point of view, it was great for the team's confidence because they went out there and won the match convincingly. They needed that for morale of the group. 

I wouldn't imagine Kieran and the lads will be looking at that as a massive success. But hopefully it can be a catalyst for the season and get Connacht up and running.

You can only beat what's put up in front of you. They went out there, got their bonus point, they conceded two tries, but they got tries and got their scores when needed.

They came out of there relatively injury-free too and that's all you can ask for.

They had a disappointing patch after they went 19-3 up, and then conceded two tries. That's a problem when it's a team like Oyonnax who wouldn't have their full team out. But on the flip side of that, sometimes when you are well ahead and cruising you might take your foot off the gas. You shouldn't do it but sometimes you do and end up shutting off psychologically. 

But Connacht are working hard and Kieran Keane is trying to get everything to come together at the right time. They have struggled with their consistency in the first few games of the season when they didn't have everyone singing off the same hymn sheet. 

Hopefully that win last weekend is the start of the turnaround. Worcester is going to be a tough game but in the back of their minds Connacht will be focusing on Munster the week after. 

That is going to be a really tough game, but Munster have played Castres last weekend and face another big Champions Cup fixture with Racing 92 this time around. Munster will be emotionally drained after this weekend and they could be there for the taking for Connacht.

Struggling Worcester are struggling in the Premiership but they are still not a bad side. It will be interesting to see how they will take to the competition, will they send over their first team or focus on their domestic league?

There's a bit of chess that goes on in Europe every year, especially in the Challenge Cup, everyone is watching their opposition to see what attitude they will take to it. 

Connacht will look to mix it up again this weekend but I would like think confidence will be high, they can score another win and then with two big European wins back to back, they will welcome Munster to Galway looking to win. 

Coming off the back of four losses, all of a sudden you could have three wins in a row which would change the season dramatically. When you look at the losses Connacht had, they were unlucky and only lost by a single score on a few occasions. 

They are there or thereabouts, it's just about waiting on things to click at the right moment. Kieran Keane wants it to happen and hopefully the game tomorrow will kick-start things fully.

There is no reason why Connacht can't get out of their pool. When you get to a quarter-final and beyond all bets are off, in any competition. A lot of it will come down to the PRO14 and how it's affecting their performances, what games are coming up and where they are in the table. 

Any time you try for silverware you have to really go for it and there's no reason why Connacht can't advance past the pool stages and then plot from there on in. Hopefully they would be in a position to be challenging well at the latter end of this competition. 

People say it's not a great competition because you are not at the top table. But it's another piece of silverware and another route through to the Champions Cup. 

There would be good teams in the latter end of the competition but there is no reason for Connacht to fear any of them.

It's just a case of getting through the pool and not having any blips.

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