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The Ireland U-20s coach Nigel Carolan (pictured) has been bumped up to the senior coaching set-up in Connacht. Now it looks like Nigel is being primed for a future head coach role while Kieran Keane may need greater strength in numbers next season. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

The Ireland U-20s coach Nigel Carolan (pictured) has been bumped up to the senior coaching set-up in Connacht. Now it looks like Nigel is being primed for a future head coach role while Kieran Keane may need greater strength in numbers next season. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

The Ireland U-20s coach Nigel Carolan (pictured) has been bumped up to the senior coaching set-up in Connacht. Now it looks like Nigel is being primed for a future head coach role while Kieran Keane may need greater strength in numbers next season. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

It's never over until it's over. It's still mathematically possible that Connacht can overturn the gap between themselves and European spots in the Guinness Pro12, but it's unlikely at this late stage in the season.

They just need to get their heads down and take aim at Zebre, in what will hopefully be perfect conditions for rugby again this weekend. The Italians are at a low ebb, after their latest hammering, a 50-14 defeat at the hands of Munster.

That was Zebre's 16th defeat in 17 games this season; the statistics speak for themselves but Connacht cannot afford to travel with complacency either. Ospreys did that in Round 18 when they went to Treviso. A 13-5 defeat followed at Stadio Monigo.

You can always lose these games if you don't go with the right mindset.

Dangerous

Connacht cannot afford to lose ground with just a few games to go. Cardiff Blues showed against Leinster last weekend that they are still really dangerous, and they could pip Connacht to the guaranteed play-off spot, if Pat Lam's men don't keep winning.

They need to beat Zebre; playing well is great for momentum, and if the few silly errors aren't ironed out in time the team could miss out on points, or concede at the other end of the field, and then they're screwed.

It's all about winning, because when it comes to the play-offs they are one-off games, and teams just need to get over the line.

Connacht have been playing some really good stuff. But one or two errors here and have been very costly, and the stats from last week's game against Glasgow Warriors paint a different story to the result.

It is a difficult defeat to swallow, especially when you see the final scoreline. Glasgow had a player sent off, and you cannot concede a try against 14 men, and then go on and lose the game.

It has been a tough year; if Connacht had played like that all season, and had a less punishing injury-list, they could have been on a much stronger footing in the Pro12.

It is difficult to be out of the race for the top six at this early stage of the season, but it doesn't matter how you qualify for the Champions Cup. And if Connacht could get in through the play-off route, it would still be a very good feat considering what happened over the campaign.

Connacht are still the team that only missed out on a Champions Cup quarter-final in the final seconds of the pool phase.

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They still upheld their philosophy and came with a wonderful brand of rugby. It's just sometimes things don't go your way, and that's how it has transpired over the course of 2016-17.

But there is going to be a change in management now. Pat Lam has done some great stuff, and winning the Pro12 was a historic occasion, but freshening things up could be the best thing for this province.

Kieran Keane has a big job on his hands coming to the Sportsground next season. It's hard to live up to those high expectations all the time. But it will be interesting to see what style of rugby he will come with and that's something to look forward to.

It's fantastic to see Jimmy Duffy being kept on, and more importantly Nigel Carolan being bumped up to the senior coaching set-up. I'm sure he was offered coaching positions with the senior side many times in the past, but it's nice to see he is finally making the step up.

Brilliant

Nigel is a brilliant individual and from the long-term point of view, the club look to have the right people in the right positions. It's crucial that any club lacking the resources builds from within and that's what Connacht have always done.

Now it looks like Nigel is being primed for a future head coach role, and that would be a further acknowledgment of the great work he has done.

The future is bright, despite the poor result in Scotstoun last weekend, and although sixth place does look out of reach, Connacht still have so much to play for this season. A win in Zebre this weekend keeps them moving in the right direction.

Irish Independent