Connacht are already looking to the future as the province’s season draws to a close
This may be the end of the season that Connacht deserves.
e mighty Zebre at home and, with only three-quarters of tickets tallied so far, it doesn’t seem likely the sold-out signs will be needed on College Road.
Victory – and things are certainly never so bad that a match against Zebre does not end in victory – will mean that Connacht’s Championship campaign will end in perfect symmetry.
Eight wins and eight losses. Some of the victories were singularly remarkable; others positively execrable.
They are one of only two teams in the northern hemisphere to have won on South African soil and yet they have soiled their own turf with a compilation of embarrassing home defeats that recall the darkest and most darkness of the turn of the century.
In Europe they flattered to cheat, wasting two chances to advance with enough advantage to avoid their dubious last-16 reward of meeting the competition favorites over two legs.
Typically, they delivered a spirited performance at home before docilely succumbing in Dublin; again, their discipline, the worst in the league, aggravated a pitiful defense.
Sometimes they have been quite thrilling to watch; on other occasions, totally infuriating.
Players like Mack Hansen, through an Australian tavern, have been riding an exotic wave of tremendous excitement all year round; there were lasting impressions made by Cian Prendergast and Conor Oliver.
But so many others have regressed and management’s decision to effectively weed out members of the squad departing from their recent South African tour speaks volumes.
That management itself has mostly operated on the hoof – Andy Friend leads a squad of two rookies at this level and another who had been out of the sport for 18 months – did little to help matters.
Friend spoke to the media yesterday for the final matchweek of the season and expressed his opinion that the players have struggled the most when forced to reflect on what they are doing.
“The game is about flow and when you think you’re not in the flow,” he says, alluding to the fact that this undermined the too many occasions when Connacht barely managed to climb out of the pitfalls of their greyhound stage. .
For the first time under his tutelage, Connacht will not feature in the Champions Cup next season – ‘It hurts us’ – and although there is much talk of giving a Challenge Cup belt, staying competitive in United Rugby Championship must be their priority. goal.
The addition of the South African quartet – as well as the geographical oddity that pits Connacht against the three Irish provinces twice (how they’d love a Zebre double!) – raises the stakes.
This season they were finally discovered trying to develop a new style of play; some of the players couldn’t cope or gave up, which reflects badly on them as well as those who teach.
Friend, who blasted Connacht’s levels of professional preparation following the Aviva implosion, is confident the arrival of a Leinster cohort and their ‘self-regulation’ can add cohesion to his 44-man squad for the next term.
Planning for next season is already well advanced.
Nonetheless, it looks sad that old-time stars like Ultan Dillane could be frozen out this week as the province’s season draws to a close.