By John Fallon
CONNACHT have now played around one-third of their games for the season and while it has been a mixed bag so far, there is no doubt there has been upward swing in performance and confidence at the Sportsground.
New coach Andy Friend, in typical Australian fashion, is more of a glass half-full than half-empty type of guy and he has made a big impression on and off the field since taking over from Kieran Keane’s brief reign.
Four of the eight games in the PRO14 have been won, they are still alive in the Challenge Cup with one triumph from two, and will now head on their two-match tour to South Africa on a high after this latest bonus point win.
The undoubted highlight so far this season was that first win in Belfast in 58 years, while the low point came a couple of weeks ago when they crumbled away to a weakened Ospreys side in Bridgend in a game they targeted as key to their quest to return to the Champions Cup next year.
Connacht need to get back into that competition more than anything else if they are to be treated seriously, and they will need to be competing at the top level if they are to justify a spend of €30m on redeveloping the Sportsground.
Connacht rested players in the recent European Challenge Cup games, and also do it along with all the other teams in the PRO14. But no team holds back players in the Champions Cup, it is the level below Test rugby and Connacht need to get back to that scene.
Friend is confident that they have a squad to achieve that and while five of their eight league games so far have been at home, he reckons they are shaping up nicely to return to the top tier.
“I think we can make the Champions Cup. I think we have the squad to do it. We are nowhere near it yet but we have got to keep growing and if we do and we keep pushing each other to new levels, then there is no reason we can’t do it. I was pleased with the opportunities we created and with the way we finished them off. It’s a good win,” said Friend.
His side never looked back once lock James Cannon drove over after a penalty to the right corner after 23 minutes after Dragons butchered two simple two-on-one opportunities to score.
For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.
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