Thursday 5 December 2019

Opportunity to go unbeaten is big motivation

Keane desperate to see his side put in an 80-minute performance

Niyi Adeolokun of Connacht scores a try during the European Rugby Challenge Cup Pool 5 Round 5 match between Worcester Warriors and Connacht at the Sixways Stadium, in Worcester, England. Photo by Malcolm Couzens/Sportsfile
Niyi Adeolokun of Connacht scores a try during the European Rugby Challenge Cup Pool 5 Round 5 match between Worcester Warriors and Connacht at the Sixways Stadium, in Worcester, England. Photo by Malcolm Couzens/Sportsfile

Ronan Loughney

Earlier this season games that Connacht failed to start well generally ended up in defeat.

While Kieran Keane would have been unhappy with the first-half showing at Sixways last weekend, he should draw comfort from the stylish way the team clawed back the 24-14 half-time deficit.

Keane hasn't hidden his frustrations in how frequently the team goes the hard way about things and have struggled to consistently turn in a performance for 80 minutes.

Having fought back from that early onslaught and the concession of four tries in the first half, as well as riding out a period of play with just 13 men on the field, Connacht managed to turn the game around in the second half. 

Tom Farrell has been a revelation since he joined the club last year from the Bedford Blues, and has matured over that period.

His speed, excellent footwork and strength in contact is complemented by a better sense of when to offload and pass.

Farrell, Bundee Aki, Cian Kelleher and Caolin Blade were central to Connacht's fightback in the second half against Warriors.

Tiernan O'Halloran again showed a touch of class to score, and Craig Ronaldson's conversion drew the teams level.

Supporters could argue that had there been a TMO for the game, Aki's disallowed try could have been the difference.

As Connacht piled on the pressure in the closing minutes there were airs of the Leinster game about it. Yet again a potential Connacht away victory was lost to errors and the clock.

Oyonnax, who are propping up the pool, will most likely send a weakened side to Galway tomorrow for the final-round clash.

Depending on other results, a bonus-point win this weekend could yield a home semi-final for Connacht, which would be a huge advantage if they progress to that stage.

What we need to see from Connacht here is a ruthlessness similar to that displayed by Leinster against Glasgow last weekend when they scored eight tries against a team who were already out of the Champions Cup. This is an opportunity to finish the group-stage unbeaten and pet themselves in a very strong position going into the last eight.


If the squad is serious about winning this competition the mindset must shift to fit the nuances of cup rugby.

Knockout stages are unforgiving to slow starts, inconsistencies and ill-discipline. This is a very real opportunity to win more silverware and this Connacht team must look to bring their level of performance to what was seen in the Ulster game for every outing from here on in.

Looking at the teams that are most likely to progress to the last eight you would imagine Keane and his squad will not be overly intimidated by any of them.

If Connacht were to turn in an 80-minute performance that consistently featured the best parts of what we have seen this season, you would have absolute confidence that they could overcome any of this remaining opposition.

This team has grown and matured as the season has gone on but it will be in these knockout stages of cup rugby that we will see exactly how much they have developed, how clinical they are and who the real leaders are within this team.

Before then there is an opportunity for some of Connacht's players to further develop with possible inclusion in Joe Schmidt's final Six Nations squad.

It is generally accepted that if your clubs have had a fruitful run in Europe, this is likely to translate into a strong national-team performance come the Six Nations.

If this is the case then it has been a good few years since Ireland have had cause for such optimism leading into the competition.

Indeed, it looks as if Schmidt's toughest task is to trim the squad from the large pool of talent who have consistently performed for their clubs this past few months.

It is good to see the Connacht contingent getting their chance again. With the Rugby World Cup just around the corner these are exciting times for everyone involved in the international scene, and especially this crop of talented players.

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