It never takes much to soften the mood around the Connacht rugby team. No one is asking for silverware every season, or even any specific ratio of wins to losses, but the first four rounds of the season underlined to the players that there are depths that will be deemed unacceptable by supporters and management alike.
For this reasons, Friday’s thrilling encounter in west Wales has lifted spirits despite the fact that the nine point defeat was Connacht’s fourth loss in five outings. The performance was key here: the Westerners trailed by as much as nine points in the first half and rallied superbly to lead by three just before half time before giving as good as they got throughout a frantic second half.
No one person inside or outside the camp was more downbeat and critical than Connacht coach Kieran Keane after last week’s defeat to Cardiff. The quietly-spoken New Zealander had almost reached breaking point it seemed. On Friday, in the tunnel, he cut a calmer more satisfied figure. This might well be the game where he finally saw what he was looking for from his side, this might be the point where a corner was turned.
The Scarlets came in as unbackable favourites, with great form and a star-studded line-up, especially in the backline. As early as the 8th minute, they had demonstrated their prowess in the centre with British and Irish Lion Jonathan Davies bursting through tackles in the centre on the way to setting up New Zealander Johnny McNicholl. The sense of gloom seemed set to continue for the men from the West.
Perhaps the most important score of the game for Connacht followed that as they answered that blow right from the restart. On the first phase after the Scarlets gathered, Bundee Aki pushed up in the line and forced a loose pass that Jack Carty ran onto, he put boot to ball and the bounce favoured him as he went in under the post for the visitors first try. The score settled Connacht and built belief.
Still though, by the 24th minute of the half, the Scarlets were 19-10 ahead and seemingly in total control, having notched three tries. Winger Steff Evans was at the heart of everything good they did with some wonderful footwork for their second try and good support play for Rhys Patchell’s score.
For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.