LET’S call a spade a spade – Connacht are simply not a top six side this season. As a result, It is very easy to argue that they’ve done nothing to suggest they deserve a place in the Champions Cup next season but when free passes are given up to struggling Italian sides, perhaps that’s less of a relevant point.
On a warm Saturday evening that felt more like a late May end of season tussle and in a game played out on the home side’s artificial pitch, reigning Pro 12 champions Connacht, produced a 40 minute performance when an 80 minute one was needed. Those 40 minutes were indeed a brief return to the stunning rugby we saw 12 months ago but, perhaps, unsurprisingly they proved merely a flash in a campaign with more lows than highs.
Connacht led by two at half time but collapsed in the third quarter to trail by as much as nine before launching a late fightback that certainly provided them with opportunities to win this game against the Champions Cup quarter finalists. Ultimately though, like so many times before this season, that comeback fell short by dint of the same old failings, shaky set piece play, chaotic restarts and basic handling errors at key moments.
For sure, Connacht can point to a poorly refereed offside line in the first half where Glasgow were able to hang in there on less than 20% territory and possession as a result of a jarringly in-the-face defensive line that pushed up on every phase. They can also point to some bad luck with injuries too, but the final result really was hard to argue with all the same.
The defeat ends all hope of securing an automatic Champions Cup spot this season and leaves Connacht with just one final route to the European Cup next year, an end of May play-off with one other Pro12 side and the seventh ranked teams from France and England. That is already a fairly daunting task for a team really looking out of sorts and in need of a pivot in overall strategy and game planning.
The automatic qualification wasn’t lost on Saturday though, Glasgow away was not even on the radar for must-win games at the start of the season. Home defeats to the Ospreys, Munster, Glasgow and that away loss to the Dragons are where the Pro12 season was derailed. Two of those came as a result of a nightmare pre-season. The others were just a team out of kilter and making mistakes.
And yet, Connacht are still a formidable side with huge potential. That was evident here. The first try, brilliantly finished by Niyi Adeolokun but made by the electric Tiernan O’Halloran, who started at the proverbial 100 miles per hour and would have maintained that pace in the second half but for a knock to the knee which slowed him down.
Full report in this week’s Connacht Tribune.