THE Pro12 title defence has not gone remotely as planned for Connacht but Saturday’s shock loss to basement dwellers Zebre was a new low in a season that is looking like it might end up as Pat Lam’s worst in his four years in charge of the province.
The fall off from the spectacular title winning campaign has been jaw dropping during the course of the last eight months and in this re-fixed clash in Parma at the weekend, it all came to a head.
The previous week’s defeat in Glasgow had firmly ended any hopes that Connacht might catch the sides above them to secure an automatic Champions cup spot and that combined with a few changes to the team to allow some key men get some rest, appears to have contributed to a game where Connacht fell to a side winning just their first home match of the entire season.
The hosts, who remained bottom of the standings despite the result, ran in three tries courtesy of Derick Minnie, Tommaso Boni and Edoardo Padovani. Stacey Ili, Craig Ronaldson and Josh Rowland scored tries for Connacht, who were unable to fully capitalise on a two-man advantage in the game’s closing stages when Minnie and Matteo Pratichetti were both in the sin-bin.
Nothing changes for Connacht in terms of their objective. They are safe in one of the two end of season Champions Cup play-off positions which was all they could have hoped for before the weekend. An 18 point gap to Edinburgh means even if they lose in the Scottish capital next week, it is still highly unlikely that the Scots will overhaul them in the final three rounds.
Yet those end of season play-offs in late May will include Cardiff and a French and English side that will be in far better shape both in terms of momentum and mental strength unless something changes for Connacht in their final four games starting this Friday away to Edinburgh, and continuing on with games against Leinster and the Scarlets at home and Munster away.
For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.