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Connacht’s struggles damage summer tour hopefuls

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Connacht head coach Andy Friend. Photo by: Matt Impey/Sportsfile

Connacht head coach Andy Friend. Photo by: Matt Impey/Sportsfile

Connacht head coach Andy Friend. Photo by: Matt Impey/Sportsfile

Connacht complete their campaign with a game of little consequence to sports fans beyond their borders.

Andy Friend’s men will win today and so complete a league campaign whose perfect symmetry – eight wins, eight defeats – masks so many imperfections. Their race for Champions Cup qualification was run much earlier than their cheerleaders would have you believe.

It is quite jarring that Connacht are not amongst the 24-team elite phase of competition next year, given that it seemed that they had assumed, if not permanent residence, then long-term lodger status at least.

If they thought the pressure had ramped up this season, while attempting to advance a new playing style with a mostly novice coaching staff, the heat will intensify next term.

The World Cup, and a summer audition in New Zealand, might occupy some minds today; though not all. Jack Carty and Kieran Marmion might have been well-regarded as contenders at the beginning of the four-year cycle; their removal from top-level European fare will more than likely confirm their permanent removal from contention.

There are several likely lads in the Connacht pack who will want to prolong their campaigns.

Cian Prendergast, an eye-catching selection at the base of the scrum, heads that queue and Conor Oliver has also been very consistent all term despite being in a team which hasn’t.

Locks Niall Murray and Gavin Thornbury will also be hoping that there will be a gaggle of seats on the IRFU’s big bird heading south; sadly for them, other bolters like Joe McCarthy and Thomas Ahern have surely leapfrogged them. A reminder that even on a day of seemingly no consequence, there is always somebody paying a price.

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Verdict: Connacht

Connacht – O McNulty; J Porch, T Farrell, T Daly, A Wootton; J Carty (capt), K Marmion; D Buckley, D Tierney-Martin, F Bealham, G Thornbury, N Murray, E Masterson, S Masterson, C Prendergast. Reps: D Heffernan, M Burke, J Aungier, U Dillane, A Papali’I, C Reilly, C Fitzgerald, S Arnold.

Zebre Parma – L Pani; A Tuivuaka, F Smith Jr, E Lucchin, J Trulla; C Canna, C Cook; D Fischetti, L Bigi, E Bello, D Sisi (capt), A Zambonin, L Andreani, I Bianchi, T Fox-Matamua. Reps: G Ribaldi, P Buonfiglio, M Nocera, L Krumov, R Vintcent, N Casilio, A Fusco, J Laloifi.

Ref – Adam Jones (WRU)

Connacht v Zebre Parma, Live, RTÉ2/Premier Sports 1, 5.0


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