SAY what you like about the opening ten games of the season, but don’t try to say you’ve seen it all before. There’s something very different about this Connacht squad under the new coaching team, from the game plan to the overall philosophy, from the levels of accountability to the all round attitude. The Kieran Keane era is up and running and the settling in phase is well and truly in the rear view mirror.
Saturday night’s scrappy win over the new additions to the competition, the Bloemfontein and Orange Free State based Cheetahs had very few highlight moments from the men in green beyond a wonderfully crafted bolt from the blue sort of try from the fit-again Niyi Adeolokun during the first half. Outside of that, it was a workmanlike effort that turned out to be just enough to garner an eight point win and deny the visitors even a losing bonus point.
The late comeback from the Cheetahs served only to underline that this was a poor Connacht display against the visitors who had been forced to travel without four key backs that had been called into the South African squad. It was the final game of a ten week run of rugby before a welcome two week break and it was a must win against a key Conference rival.
Ten weeks into the season and everything seems to be laid out clearly. Keane is different, he’s honest and forthright, he’ll grumble when the performances are not up to scratch and dish out praise when they are. Talking to him after games feels more like a fly on the wall style documentary than the kind of carefully crafted scripted media diatribe we often get these days. That certainly is refreshing.
The PRO14 campaign started badly, very badly in fact, with one win from six but after a couple of good results in the Challenge Cup, Connacht have bounced back during the last couple of weeks with these two key home wins over Munster and the Cheetahs and now sit fourth in the Conference A standings, four points behind the South Africans in the race for the third and final play-off spot.
For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.