THE newly expanded PRO14 has a very different look to it and the Connacht coach’s box will be full of new faces too with head coach Kieran Keane and assistant Nigel Carolan all set for their first competitive game in charge of the westerners. Their campaign begins with a home tie against Glasgow at the Sportsground on Saturday evening (7:30pm).
In as much as can be gauged, the pre-season appears to have gone well. The injury count seems low, the games were competitive and even the rather novel training interaction with Munster (in what was basically a combined training exercise with various set-piece in game scenarios created) seems to have been well received – Munster coach Rassie Erasmus was full of praise for Keane’s idea.
Connacht took on Wasps in Coventry last Wednesday week and after leading at half time, went down 40-22 in a useful outing with Rory Scholes marking his first start in green with a try and James Mitchell and Steve Crosbie combining well at half back in the second half.
On Saturday, the team played a rare home friendly and were greeted by a sizeable crowd of over three thousand. The enthusiasm and size of the support during the 24-14 victory over Pat Lam’s Bristol prompted both Keane and new back row signing Jared Butler to remark afterwards on how taken aback they were by such an atmosphere in a non competitive encounter.
Last weekend certainly proved that despite all the excitement around Galway hurlers and Mayo footballers, the sporting public of the west are as enthusiastic as ever about their rugby heroes. It’s a great time to be a sports fan in the west and both Keane and Butler will no doubt be even more impressed with the noise from the Clan Terrace on a competitive match day.
So who is available for the opening game? Well, you can rule out Quinn Roux, Jake Heenan, Tom Farrell. Caolin Blade, Naulia Dawai, Niyi Adeolokun and Tiernan O’Halloran for this weekend. Many of those are not far off returning but Adeolokun is facing a longer recovery timeframe after knee surgery. He may not see action until the winter and won’t return to training until mid-October.
For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.