THE European Challenge Cup might well turn out to be a golden opportunity for Kieran Keane to get this project onto the next level. He won’t have encountered a multi competition format in his many years in New Zealand, and he will surely relish this break from the grind of the PRO14. What is certain is that this high octane five try to two victory over French side Oyonnax on Saturday certainly felt like a change of pace.
In the unique setting of the Swiss city of Geneva, Connacht completely overwhelmed the struggling Top14 outfit who had made the one hour trek east across the French/Swiss border into a town known for fondue, chocolate, ice hockey and water sports, but certainly not for its rugby. Stadium refurbishments and a need to placate some Swiss sponsors were among the reasons for the unusual setting but the 30,000 capacity stadium was no more than 10% full.
Let’s put aside the fact that Connacht are capable of beating any side in this competition in Galway, let’s also put aside the thoughts that they have that 2016 Murrayfield masterpiece in their locker as proof that anything is possible in finals and let’s hold our horses on arguing the reasons why Connacht can win this competition because first things first, they need a home quarter final in the Spring to stand a chance of achieving such ambitions.
Five wins from six in the pool should secure top spot and with a couple of bonus points thrown in, they should be good for a home quarter final for good measure. They have the right pool to do that, the other three sides have all had equally poor starts to their respective championships, but there’s no denying that relegation fears in England and France make such realities far more distracting for them. Worcester defeated Brive on Saturday and come to Galway in good spirits this weekend but their one and only priority is Premiership survival. Ditto for Brive and Oyonnax in the Top14.
For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.