The Big Leap

Ah, you rascally Westies, we couldn’t let you down. Even though only about eight of you get to the dog track to see the granite-hard Connacht-men scrap away in the horizontal rain every other week, it seems at least six of the eight get on to the comment box to badger us into writing more stuff about them. Nice lobbying!

Truth be told, we don’t get to see enough of Connacht. In an ideal world, we’d get to see all four provinces in action every week and have detailed colour-coded depth charts in Excel on all of the teams (careful, now), but we have four ankle-biters between us and that sometimes limits the time we have to watch 30 men chasing an oval-shaped bladder around the dirt. Connacht is the one that usually slips through the net. So please, Connacht fans, you can add a lot to this piece with your own opinions below the line. Make hay!

We had a stream of questions on each of Munster, Leinster and Ulster’s upcoming campaigns, but for Connacht this and every season seems to boil down to one perennial question: can Connacht make the leap and break into the top six of the Pro12? If we can agree that The Big Three, Glasgow and Ospreys will always be in the top half, then there’s a place up for grabs between the likes of Cardiff, the Scarlets, Connacht, Embra and Treviso. Scarlets usually take it but they’re a bonkers team who only turn up when they feel like it and often see tackling as an optional extra.  Can Connacht be the ones to grasp the nettle? Last year they finished 10th, with six wins and 16 defeats. The two seasons before that they were eighth, winning eight games in 2012-13 and seven the previous year. To take it to the next level, they would need to target double figures in the games won column.

The good news is they’re off to a flyer. They beat Dragons in the first week and, improbably, turned over Embra in Murrayfield on Friday night. The same Embra, and by the exact same scoreline, that beat Munster in Thomond Park the previous week. It’s the sort of result few Connacht vintages in the past would have pulled off, but as ever with the man from the West, it’s backing up these notable performances that so often proves beyond them. Can they go three from three? If they do, it would leave them almost a third of the way to their target (set for them by us!) of 10 wins for the season, with 19 games left in which to do it. Their next game is an eminently winnable fixture against… Leinster, whom they almost always beat in the Sportsground. It’s a huge opportunity against a team they usually save their best for. If they do so we can expect some frothy talk about Connacht making ‘the leap’.

The Connacht squad is the usual mishmash of local talent, obscure Southern hemisphere men and cast-offs from the big three. Some of the local talent is pretty good; Robbie Henshaw is pencilled in as a possible successor to Brian O’Driscoll, and the great one is himself a fan. We are still not entirely convinced he’s as good as some say, but he is still young and we will watch with interest. And Kieran Marmion played for Ireland in the summer tour, and is a significant upgrade on the multitude of scrum-halves that have passed through the province in recent years. John Muldoon is the captain fantastic, who epitomises the team’s spirit on the pitch.

Some of the cast-offs aren’t bad either. Willie Faloon is a great footballing openside who is just too small to impose himself against the very best sides, but very capable at Pro12 level. Think Niall Ronan with a Nordie accent.  And Nathan White is one of their best signings and a very reliable tighthead, who could be capped for Ireland when he naturalises.

By far the biggest improvement is the calibre of player Pat Lam has been able to attract from the southern hemisphere. Bundee Aki was targeted by more successful teams, but Pat Lam appears to have convinced him to play on a rain-lashed dog track for a couple of years rather than compete for silverware. And if Mils Muliaina has even a spark of greatness left in him, he will be fantastic to watch. A truly world class player at his best, he is a massive coup for the province.

As usual, the depth chart is Connacht’s weakness, and beyond the more recognisable names are a bunch of largely interchangeable journeymen and inexperienced youngsters who could go either way. And Rodney Ah Here, Irish international tighthead prop. [Idea for TV programme: Rodney Ah Here and Michael Bent take a road trip to Donegal, showcasing the local scenery, and stopping off for liquid refreshments in many local hostelries on the way. Hurls should probably feature, but we haven’t figured out how to shoehorn them in yet].

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64 Comments

  1. Barry

     /  September 16, 2014

    Ignorant post in more ways than one – I’m unsubscribing

    • Barry – don’t be so precious and don’t take things, especially this blog, so seriously!

      Tell us why we’re wrong in our assessment of Connacht instead…

    • munstermicko

       /  September 16, 2014

      With Leinster stealing players and ourselves stealing the fields ye have a right to feel aggrieved.

      Friday will be a great match. The westies always stick it to the Dubs and they’ll be like terriors.

    • Hairy Naomh Mhuire

       /  September 16, 2014

      Cancel the TV Licence Barry. With the amounts these lads are being paid……………

  2. Not this year.

  3. Mike

     /  September 16, 2014

    They seem to be doing something right with their academy as well.

    Also, there is a strong possibility that Muliaina is completely sh1te and permanently injured. Obviously decent in his prime, but that was a while ago.

    • It appears so. We probably should have mentioned Tiernan O’Halloran, who is probably their best back.

      On Muliaina, that’s always the risk with these sort of ‘last of the summer wine’ signings. Sometimes they work really well (Ollie le Roux), other times not so much (Christian Cullen, Lote Tuqiri). At the very least, they need an on-field repacement for Gavin Duffy, who was a massive player for them, so hopefully he’ll stay fit.

      • O’Halloran is (bizarrely, IMO) a bit of a hate figure out west. He hasn’t pushed on as you’d have hoped but he’s not as bad as some make out either. Mils has been the world’s most expensive waterboy (now that BOD’s retired) in the first few games, we could badly use him calling the shots for our fresh-from-the-creche backline.

      • Mike

         /  September 16, 2014

        I’m really interested in Connacht this year. Muliaina and Aki will get the headlines, but they aren’t the story. Muliaina might be a no show and they signed the wrong Aki IMO.

        In every area of the team there is something to look out for. In the front five – Tom McCartney is a class act, Ronan Loughney has been capped and Nathan White will almost certainly follow. Quinn Roux does have potential in there somewhere and could be decent if he finds it, as could Michael Kearney. Jake Heenan will play for Ireland some day if he stays fit, Eoin McKeon is going to come close and John Muldoon is a warrior. Always good to watch.

        In the backs… Marmion has been capped. Really interested to see if he can kick on. How much potential does Jack Carthy really have (so far so good). Can Aki and Henshaw form a center partnership and can Poolman, Muliaina Carr, O’Halloran etc form a potent back three.

        For me they are way more interesting to watch this year than quite a few other teams and i’m really disappointed they aren’t on TV a bit more.

        • Teilifís na Gaillimhe are showing 8 of our next 11 league matches live (some also with Sky or BBC at the same time), while BBC Wales are showing the Ospreys game on October 31st (insert your own Halloween Horror joke).

  4. A Connacht post! Think I’ll go work for a cigarette company next… 😉

    Regarding squad depth, unfortunately you’re ban on there: Heenan and Henry just ruled out for 5 and 6 months respectively. Down to one fit openside and one fit senior hooker after two games.

    • Is it just me or are there an inordinately high number of injuries for this stage of the season? Munster have a similar problem at hooker as well as another few players out and Ulster have their share of injuries too. Leinster seem comparatively fortunate.

      One senior hooker and openside is a problem for sure.

  5. Yossarian

     /  September 16, 2014

    A shift over the past couple of seasons towards youth over southern imports seems to be bearing fruit. The backline age profile for the two wins of 22.5!investing in young players from within the province or tempting those not signed up by the other seems to be working. With forwards taking longer to develop to the physical challenge will we see a few indigenous forwards breaking through soon?Sean O’Brien is one everyone is waiting to see but surely there are a few more.
    Connacht 20’s beat Munster 20’s with two backrows from leinster(1 michaels,1 clongowes) given time this system could really start working.

    • There definitely appears to be some players coming through, almost all in the backline. Though I gather one or two props are winning good reviews too?

      As salmsonconnacht points out though, they need someone of Muliania’s experience to get into the team to offer a guiding hand to the younger lads, otherwise they could end up suffering rather than developing. Two wins from two, though, and one on the road too. Encouraging for sure.

      • Mike

         /  September 16, 2014

        The first win was a scandal. Very lucky.

      • Yossarian

         /  September 16, 2014

        I think Lam recognised that they had a lack of experience to guide the young lads. It has come up a number of times that Muliania’s brief is as much coaching/nurturing as playing. The 8 for the 20’s McVeigh was very impressive in the School’s cup last year. Likewise Alex Penny the 6. Not snapped up in Leinster but potentially good enough to be pro players. good scouting from Connacht and good distribution of talent across the provinces.

  6. Tom McAuliffe

     /  September 16, 2014

    It’s called a “hurley” ggghhhhhrrrrrrr (sorry it’s a pet hate of mine)

    • contraflow

       /  September 16, 2014

      Not in Kilkenny. A hurl is a hurl in KK. The only people I hear calling it a hurley is Munster people and middle class Dublin people, probably because they went to the Gaeltacht in Munster when growing up.

      Kudos WoF for the correct Leinster use of the word. 🙂

  7. Overall an honest assessment but I think you’re too harsh on Rodney Ah You and I’m not sure why? Last season he played every single game for Connacht and became a proper prop. You don’t have to go far to find a Connacht fan who didn’t even want him on the pitch the season before, but now he can play either side to a good level and generally doesn’t collapse like a bad diorama, or spend more time on the physio table than on the pitch like some Irish props. I can think of multiple pro12 teams who’d happily take Rodders away if they could.

    I still have a lot of time for TOH but he’s dropped off an awful lot in the past season or so and I don’t know if I’d even call him Connacht’s best back, that would go to Marmion for me, with Henshaw and Leader in close contention.

    • We get this a lot, so perhaps we should defer to those who see more of him, but any time we have seen Ah You he has been singularly awful.

      When he was called up to the Six Nations squad, we paid particular attention to his performance that weekend against Saracens, and it could only be described as alarming. Mako Vunipola – as far from a destructive scrummager as it’s possible to find – simply destroyed him.

      • I had a feeling the saracens performance might be part of it. I can’t defend that game but I have to say no one played well that day, it was a pasting. I think it was Clark’s last game for Connacht when he was concussed yet again, Brett Wilkinson fractured his neck and has since retired – that’s a black day in Connacht history that was terrible from start to finish. I don’t think you can take as representative of any players career last season, and you’re doing a disservice to yourself and those 20 odd players if you do so.

        He was much better against Saracens in the Galway fixture for a start, and in many of the games last season that he started on merit ahead of White even when the latter was fit again. Its hard to see him ever becoming a truly destructive scrummager but on the basis of last season’s respective careers the Bent comparison is wrongheaded.

        • Fair point, but certain things are hard to forget, and being mashed by Vunipola is one. Having said that, Stephen Archer got shunted all around Parc y Scarlets 18 months ago and we wrote him off in our minds, but he has improved hugely since then.

          • Sound Steve

             /  September 16, 2014

            Like most dynamic looseheads it seems, rule changes at the scrum have been seriously beneficial to Vunipola so I wouldn’t judge him on his Lions performances, as you are doing.

          • I have never been convinced by Vunipola in the scrum, before or after the rule changes. England suffered greatly in the set piece hen he came on in the Six Nations.

        • col

           /  September 16, 2014

          My impression of ah you will forever be tarnished by his performance against argentina (first test?). He was on the pitch about four minutes when Argentina got in to our 22 and began powering towards the line. I would have expected a fresh prop making his test debut to show some impact in this situation with his tackling or rucking but he was woeful and his general work rate was abismal to be honest. I would be shocked if he ever gets capped again by joe

          • col

             /  September 16, 2014

            Ok you aren’t talking about capping him but I would my be harsh on the lads for not rating him

          • Agree, that was an eye-wateringly poor performance.

          • I’m not one eyed enough to claim it was a good performance, but I’m fairly certain Rodders was up in the preseason Ireland camp with the rest of the crew just a few weeks ago?

  8. Of the players you mention, I think you’re slightly harsh on Willie Faloon, who has actually been a real physical presence for Connacht. He seems to have bulked up since he left Ulster and has shown that he can mix it against high-class opposition in physical games. This is important because of the very, very bad news Connacht have just received on Jake Heenan’s fitness. Heenan you haven’t mentioned, presumably because he’s out for most of the season, but he’s absolutely brilliant and reminds me for all the world of Keith Gleeson when he started out with Leinster: highly-skilled, hard as nails, hits well above his weight in the tackle, and is a “groundhog” who actually turns over ball. Faloon isn’t in the same class, but if he can stay fit, Connacht will still have a serviceable 7. If he gets injured, you’d fear badly for Connacht’s back-row balance if the likes of Muldoon, a natural blindside who’s slowing down, had to play there. They may have to seek a loan signing again, and could do a lot worse than Josh Van Der Flier or Dan Leavy from Leinster.

    Other senior players worth a mention include Mick Kearney, who did a very good (and slightly uncharacteristic) Mike McCarthy impersonation of knocking the ball on quite a lot while also hitting people very hard against Edinburgh, but who is under-appreciated; Denis Buckley, who’s always had serious talent but now seems to have added application; Darragh Leader, a strong, athletic full-back with a monstrous boot and good footballing skills; and Tom McCartney, the hooker-cum-loosehead who may well sort out Connacht’s perennial lack of all-round quality at hooker.

    Young, promising players who might catch the eye include Shane Layden, a back three player who showed serious quality at u20 level a couple of years back but has been chronically injured since, and Sean O’Brien, Irish u20 captain who took over from Dan Leavy on his injury last year and who might get a chance in the second row at some point. O’Brien is exciting because we’ve almost gotten used to seeing Connacht produce very talented backs, but the rate of production of forwards has been less impressive. He’s short for the prototypical modern Irish second row, listed as 1.93m, but if he can pile on the mass (listed as 108kg at the moment, but looks the frame to build muscle) he could become a useful tighthead lock in the French mould for Connacht.

    Looking at the squad I’d say they’ll be a match for almost anyone in the scrum, but may not have comparable quality in the lineout and at restarts. That, allied to a lack of big beasts in the second and back row, could undermine their attempts to get a really exciting set of backs moving. Add in the absence of a top-quality out-half or goal-kicker, Heenan’s injury, and the inevitable biblical plague of injuries they will suffer at some point during the season (seriously, what is up with Connacht’s strength and conditioning and medical teams) and it will take some magic from Lam to get that top six place. It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility, but I wouldn’t be getting too optimistic just yet.

    • Great post and insight, thanks for taking the time to stick it up here thoughtless.

    • connachtexile

       /  September 16, 2014

      You make some good points Thoughtless. We did get a new strength and conditioning guy this year who seems to have made the world of difference so far. There’s a lot of new bulk on the guys and apart from Heenan having a reoccurring injury none of the guys are out for a massive length of time. Hopefully this continues. Glad to see the good work of Nigel Carolan being mentioned above. I’d also like to mention Danie Poolman the Connacht winger who will be a future Irish international when he qualifies for Ireland.

    • I think the goal kicking could do for us again – we’re at 5/12 (42%) for the first two games – but the lack of big beasts shouldn’t be an issue any more – we started the game with two 120 kilo monsters (White and Roux) and brought on three more (Ah You, Muldowney, Naoupu). You can’t really go much bigger without becoming too big (yes, your lot, Guy Noves).

      • Those are indeed big men, and “big beasts” was a poor choice of phrase. What I was driving at was the question of how many are effective ball-carriers who will get you front foot possession. The Naoupu of a few seasons back certainly could and Ah You is a good carrier in the tight, but I’m not sure Naoupu has it anymore and none of the others strike me as particularly explosive. (Especially not Aly Muldowney.) Without that go-forward the danger is that the back play can easily become too lateral. I didn’t notice it against Edinburgh, but against strong defensive sides, it could be a problem.

        • Yossarian

           /  September 16, 2014

          McKeon threatened to become that badly needed ball carrier at the start of last year but i thought his form really dropped. given time Sean O’Brien should be a ball carrier,a lot expected of him already why not a bit more! definitely a big ball carrying back row needed.
          i know connacht fans won’t like it but isn’t there an element of some of their players being very good just not good enough?Faloon-let go by Ulster, McKeon-would he make any of the other provinces? even Muldoon-great servant but in a purely playing wise capacity is he better than any of the 6’s at the other provinces?Connacht always destined to be 4th if their players are always inferior to the other provinces. Best chance of European rugby is to leapfrog one of the irish teams as 6th possibly won’t be enough with a guaranteed welsh,italian,scot team qualifying.

          • Assuming Leinster, Munster, Ulster, Glasgow, and Ospreys are the top five (and that is extremely likely), Connacht finishing sixth would automatically qualify them, with only one team below (the Italian team) entitled to a qualification spot. I think that’s the scenario most are envisaging when they talk about Connacht’s chance of qualification. If they do slightly worse, finishing seventh or eighth, they would almost certainly enter the four-team playoff for qualification against a similarly-ranked Pro12 team and the 7th-ranked team in both the Premiership and the Top 14, another very viable route.

            I think the odds of Connacht leapfrogging any of the other Irish sides are far slimmer than either of those scenarios, barring Foley’s reign (or Allen Clarke’s?) turning out to be a literally unprecedented disaster. I’m not a great believer in the likelihood of scenarios that are literally unprecedented.

  9. I think young leaders like Marmion, Henshaw, McKeown and Heenan really stepping up will be key this season as I’ve said here; http://ovaldigest.com/?p=206

  10. Was impressed with McSharry and Henshaw as a centre pairing. Also the prop Buckley looks handy. Pity Poolman may miss the game this weekend.

    • Paddy o

       /  September 16, 2014

      Bosh! Henshaw is in great nick, looks like has put a lot of work in over the summer. Maybe he wasn’t so hot with his attacking game at the weekend, but there ain’t an issue with his s and c, that is for sure.

  11. hulkinator

     /  September 16, 2014

    Its great to see Connacht making strides. They’re getting better every season and with a glut of young talent coming through all around the country Connacht can only benefit. And not only will Connacht benefit but Irish rugby will also.

    • I think that’s a generalised statement that doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. Getting better every year? At best they’ve been standing still. Eighth in the Pro12 in 2012 and 2013, tenth last year doesn’t really tell a story of continued improvement.

      • D6W

         /  September 16, 2014

        Maybe on the pitch there is no discernable improvement, but they have definitely made strides off the pitch. No longer limited to 1 year player contracts, alowed to keep their up and coming players, and now able to attract big name stars.

        Connacht has everything in place to make a serious challenge in the pro 12, and take its rightful place sitting at the top table of Irish rugby with the rest of the provinces. And about time too.

        • SportingBench

           /  September 16, 2014

          Agree Connacht have been getting better but up to now it has been in one off games and then they have let other games slip away. The challenge now is raising the level of expected performance so that dropping the odd game is no longer acceptable. It is much harder to do than say as the Irish team shows and is even harder with a thinnish squad.

      • hulkinator

         /  September 16, 2014

        Results are not everything. I’m judging it on players, sponsorship, attendances etc. They tick all those boxes. They’re bringing through players now that are making the Ireland squad (Henshaw, Marmion) and they’re signing quality foreign players (Heenan, Aki, Muliaina) as well as getting in good players from other provinces (Roux, White, McSharry). Attendances have doubled and theres much more interest in Connacht these days.

        • Largely agree about off the pitch improvements. It will have to be translated into results at some stage though, or else it’s for nowt!

          • Mobius Pimp

             /  September 17, 2014

            You might also take their Heineken Cup record into account when considering their results.
            There’s a correlation between the lower league wins and higher cup wins:
            Season Pool Pos Played Won Drew Lost Pts For Against Pts Diff Bonus Points
            2011–12 4th 6 1 0 5 68 130 −62 2 6
            2012–13 3rd 6 3 0 3 96 138 −42 0 12
            2013–14 3rd 6 3 0 3 101 147 -46 1 13

          • They did draw Zebre in the latter two seasons, though, so I’m not sure how much you can draw from it. They landed one big result in each season; beating Quins, Biarritz and Toulouse.

          • Mobius Pimp

             /  September 17, 2014

            Lads, I appreciate that you don’t know much about Connacht, but come on. What you can draw from it is:
            2011-2012 played 28 games, won 8
            2012-2013 played 28 games, won 11
            2013-2014 played 28 games, won 10

            Reductive not to consider their European games took a lot out of them and was always going to impact them in the league.
            Don’t think the Amlin’s worth considering due to that no-one really seemed to care about it (though it was great getting Toulon to the Sportsground!).
            Also, if you watched more of their games you would know that the performance levels have improved immeasurably and the hammerings have diminished (Sarries aside, god that was awful). If in doubt, a bit of positivity would be nice!

            As an aside to an earlier post, TO’H fell into the trap in believing that he’d made it at the age of 20. Notoriously bad trainer.
            Lovely skill set though, “would beat a man in a phone-box” is how one team mate described him to me. Very light on his feet for such a big man, and has the hands of an inside back due to his early years spent at 10/12.

          • I think it was P28, W9 last year – six wins in the Pro12 and three in the Heiny?

            Anyway, yes, points taken on the improved competitivness of Connacht, and there has been a notable change in strategy since Bradley’s tenure where they targetted particular games and barely showed up for others.

            As someone pointed out on Twitter though, losing too many close games is and always has been a big issue for Connacht.

  12. Shelflife

     /  September 17, 2014

    It’s going to be a defining year for us, as was said above , there has been a lot of work done off the pitch. The Irfu have woken up to the fact that having 4 strong teams is a good think and are really getting behind Connacht, more importantly Connacht have got off their backsides and decided to help themselves rather than use the poor us , no one loves us excuse.
    This year again the new CEO has lit a fire under the off the pitch team and they have a sense of direction and drive about them again.
    On pitch they need to put points on the table. I personally like Lam, I think he has a vision and is going about it the right way. The players seem to have bought into this and just looking at their physical make up this year they have noticeably bulked up to a man.
    The Edinburgh game showed a new belief as well, going down the line instead of securing the lbp showed a winning desire and belief in themselves that was lacking in recent years ( not the desire but the belief).
    Some good signings with a number of players beginning to stand up and be counted. Buckley and Kearney in the pack, big George looks to have a bit of life back in him again.
    Marmion is international material, Henshaw looks a fine athlete this year and this could be Poolmans year. Young Niyi is a bit of a bolter already and can only improve with game time.
    Unfortunately Heenan and Henry will be big losses,esp Heenan, he really is the real deal and as another poster said similar to gleeson if he stays fit he is international standard.
    Personally l think we will make the playoffs for the HC and a good run in the CC. We will need the rest of our players to stay fit, we can’t afford to lose any more, and we could do with a bit of luck , it’s well due to us.
    Overall we are still building, it’s a very young team, if we hit the 10 wins this year that would be a great season. Consistency is what it’s all about, if we can achieve that this season it will have been a success for me.

    • Mary Hinge

       /  September 17, 2014

      The lack of a proper 10 (we’ll take whichever of Gopperth or Madigan departs Leinster at the beginning of next season), a poor kicking ratio, a chronic injury profile (Henry and Heenan gone already for most of the season), and the crockedness of some of NZ imports (Clarke last season, Mils this season, and Heenan both last season and this season) will ultimately mean we will struggle to make top six, but there are significant grounds for optimism.

      Our scrum is formidable with both props Denis Buckley and Nathan White genuine contenders for inclusion in Irish squads between now and the WC (Ah Here is not at the required standard, here I agree with WOC).
      Mick Kearney is another genuine young talent in the second row, and one for the future. Marmion will be the third 9 in the WC squad alongside Murray and Reddan.
      McSharry in the centre (if he stays injury-free) is a talented 12 and could yet push for international consideration.
      And finally our Great White Hope Henshaw, whom I don’t see as BOD’s replacement at 13. He’s more of a 15. He will make the WC squad without doubt (wonderful power, direct runner, good tackler) but more as the alternative 15 to Rob Kearney and as option to cover 15/centre from the bench.

    • paddypower

       /  September 17, 2014

      Would it not be better to effectively forget about the coup cup/rcc 2nd tier comp and focus on trying to get into the top 6 in the pro 12? It has the hallmarks of a Europa league style thing which becomes a hindrance to a shallowish squad. They might be able to steal a march on their pro 12 competitors via that?

      • I completely agree with this. A strategy that Connacht should emulate is that of Castres..They are a very good side year in year out but don’t have the finances or squad depth (similarly to Connacht their best players are cherry picked by bigger clubs every year) to compete domestically as well as in Europe. They throw their hat at The Heineken Cup from the start every single year and always make the Semi’s in the Top14. Who gives a shit whether they win/lose against the might of La Rochelle and Exeter? Their best players (White, Marmion, Henshaw, Mc Sharry) should definitely be rested for such matches,

        I think Connacht really need to start targeting games against all the mediocre teams around them..Sending their strongest 15 up to Ravenhill and RDS isn’t a very smart move IMO (though I would make an exception to this on Friday, as it is only the third match of the season and they will have confidence after the two wins.

        • Yes, as a strategy it makes a lot of sense. Over the last two years, they were in the Heineken Cup and since it was a showpiece event with the likes of Toulouse and Saracens coming to the Sportsground, it obviously had to be given appropriate respect; and indeed Connacht put in some great, even unforgettable, performances in the competition. Beating Toulouse away anyone? Unbelieveable!

          But being back in the second tier comp may not be the worst of outcomes when it comes to managing already stretched resources, and certainly getting as high up the Pro12 log as possible can now be inked in as Priority Numero Uno.

          • @Completebore

             /  September 17, 2014

            I understand not going full pelt at whatever the secondary Euro Cup is bing called as a strategy, but I’d wonder how I’d feel if I had bought a season-ticket and the team I was supporting started throwing out B&I Cup level squads for games I’ve been charged full whack for. Not sure I’d be overly happy about it.

          • I think we’ll give it a go in both competitions as best we can. We’re short at 7 but the hooker problem is short term (Harris-Wright will be back in 2 weeks and McCartney will arrive a couple of weeks after that). We really cleared out a lot of dead wood last year. Look at scrum-half where last year we had the perma-crocked Murphy and equally-injury-prone O’Donohoe behind Marmion. We ended up using flyhalf Miah Nikora as substitute 9 in a few games, whereas this year we have fit young fellas Porter and Cooney.

            Prior to getting into the HEC, Connacht got out of their group in the old Amlin 3 of the 6 years it was structured as the Nu-Amlin is this year. Given our record in France, and the fact that Exeter are using this competition as per the LV Cup (for development purposes), we should be able to get out the group without flogging players and playing half-fit ones, as we continually did in the HEC years.

            6th may be a stretch – you need 11-13 wins for that – but the implosion of Treviso over the last year, and the likelihood that Dragons and Edinburgh are no better than last year means we should at least get the 7-9 wins needed for 8th (and the playoffs for the 20th place at the top table).

            I’d love to see us finish 6th but I’d take double play-off rugby (in April for the not-Amlin and in May for the 20th not-HEC place) if you offered it to me now.

  13. I think there’s lots of reasons for Connacht to be both optimistic and pessimistic this season. It’s early doors yet but I think in the end we’ll miss out on the top 6, mainly because we can’t handle injuries.

    I’d like to address some of the ‘talented crop of youngsters coming through’ comments. I think most people that say this are making bland, throw away statements without examining the actual reality. Just because you are 22 doesn’t mean you have talent or even potential. Having watched Connacht for years I would view Henshaw, Marmion, Harris Wright, White, Heenan, Mc Sharry (the last 4 aren’t academy products but have unarguably been developed by Connacht) as being good, talented players, and I think Buckley(vastly improved) and Carty could turn out to be great finds. However, there are a number of young Irish players starting for Connacht who are absolutely nowhere near, and will never be near an Irish jersey. I’m not saying you’re a failure if you haven’t been capped but it is worrying how many of these players are 12 rungs down on the Irish selection ladder. How many provinces would be excited if they signed Tiernan O Halloran, Eoin Mc Keown, Eoin Griffin(I’m aware he has moved), Ronan Loughney, Rodney Ah You, Sean Henry, Matt Healy? Brendan Macken would probably be viewed as a better player than the backs I’ve mentioned and he gets abused senseless in the comment section!

    Re Mils Muliana: Great signing…or is he? When Craig Clarke signed for Connacht I asked myself ‘ what’s the catch? ‘ and it didn’t take very long for us to find out! Muliaina could have gone back to Japan or done a season in France if he wanted money, so why has he come to Connacht? Could it be that he’s a crock and will make a nice living in a lovely (and relatively cheap) city while spending most of the season injured? I’m sorry if that sounds terribly cynical but after the ride Clarke took us on I’d be very suspicious when big name players in the twilight of their careers pitch up and start citing ‘the passion of the crowd, the connemara mountains, the talented underage players” etc as their reason for signing, when they wouldn’t have known the club existed before their agents told them about it. Hopefully his reasons are genuine and I wish him well.

    Reasons to be positive: Looking toward the rest of the season I would say positives are the good players I mentioned previously, we’ve actually won two tight games already this season, the fact that we now have a lot of young players in the team who aren’t burdened by the memories of 10 years of 1 point losses and desperate hammerings, our absence from the Heineken Cup, some quality signings, the better condition the squad seem to be in, the growing fanbase and increased buzz around the club in general.

    Reasons to be negative: While our backline looks like it has a few good footballers I think the main problem is the back five of the pack. Front row looks like a serious unit but Quinn Roux and Kearney won’t be putting the shit up anyone. Heenan’s injury is tragic, a class act (love the Gleeson comparisons lads!!) but I think Faloon is quite a decent player in his own right. However if he was to be injured then our backrow looks very thin indeed. There is an absolute dearth of ball carriers in the pack, and a bit of explosiveness is badly needed. A Nick Williams/CJ Stander one trick pony would be ideal! I think not signing Dave O Callaghan/Kev Mc Laughlin was a massive missed opportunity, they’ll make you some invaluable hard yards. By god Muldoon carried us for years but he’s had a few gruesome injuries by now and is nowhere near the international class blindside he used to be. Another key point is we don’t have a recognised goal kicker for the year. If Carty is given the reigns then so much of the season rests on his shoulders. Having said that, steady dependable Dan Parks couldn’t kick shit from a rope last year so an improvement should be on the cards no matter who plays!!

    Sorry for such a long post there mighn’t be another Connacht blog post until the end of season review 😉 Keep up the good work gents

    • Wasn’t there the Benson Stanley story a few years ago. His agent had got him fairly down the track with Connacht, but he had thought he was signing for Leinster and pulled the plug as soon as he worked out who Connacht were!

      • Mary Hinge

         /  September 19, 2014

        Isa Nacewa had a part in talking him out of it too – or at least as Urban Myth would have it.

  14. haha I hadn’t heard that! In the end you’d have to say Clermont have a slightly better team and climate!! Other transfer gossip I heard was that Ian Nagle continuously turned his nose up at Connacht, upon advice from Frankie ‘Goebbels’ Sheahan

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