WHEN you have time to pause and take stock, take a breath and contemplate then you probably should be grateful for it. Connacht travel to Brive on Saturday evening (8pm) in poor form and very much showing no signs of improvement . . . yet the overall objectives remain very much within reach and time is on their side in their search for solutions to their undeniable struggles for form. It’s just hard to feel optimistic for their chances of sorting it all.
At the outset of this season, qualification for the Champions Cup and a strong performance in the Challenge Cup would have been reasonable targets and despite their awful start to the PRO14 campaign, by a quirk of a poor standard of teams around them and a fairly easy target of fourth place in a pool of seven, all is not lost in the hunt for Champions Cup rugby. As for this competition, well they top the pool after two games, so not bad either.
Yet the last two weeks have not been pretty,. Connacht were defensively suspect against Cardiff but at least managed a couple of bonus points in a 36-30 defeat before a horror show in Zebre saw them come away with nothing. The mood in the camp seemed low as they trudged off the pitch and at Wednesday’s press conference, forwards coach Jimmy Duffy didn’t hide his disappointment.
While Duffy did note that he wasn’t overly worried, he also said that the review on Monday focused on the“silly errors” and addressing them “on an individual basis”. He also talked about the need for players to take ownership of their own roles. That sounds like a back to basics scenario in any book and it is crucial when taking on a French side looking for a one point win and prepared for a dog fight.
Much like Connacht, Brive have lost a lot more games then they have won this year but unlike Connacht, they play in a competition where that could lead to the unmerciful body blow of relegation. The 33-30 Top14 win over Challenge Cup pool rivals Oyonnax on Sunday was just their third of the campaign and lifted them out of the bottom two. It also incidentally left their opponents bottom of the standings. Duffy is aware that Brive are improving.
“We can expect lots of physicality, they’re big men, they’ve a lot of seasoned pros and they like to maul quite a lot. The lads have reviewed the footage quite extensively, they can cause a lot of problems if you get into an arm wrestle with them.”
For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.