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A work in progress. That is the phrase that keeps coming to mind when thinking about Connacht rugby.
Every conversation I have had with fellow Connacht fans since Friday night have all been ones of hope but also trepidation.
The performance against Munster was a huge improvement on what we have seen so far this season. The intensity and work rate was through the non-existent roof, and it looked like a different team. The Connacht set piece dominated and became a platform for them to attack from.
Connacht were the better team for the entire game and should have been out of sight and worry free.
Connacht like to put their fans through the ringer every game so of course it was a nail biter to the very end. It wouldn’t be fun if it was easy, eh?
On reflection the performance against Munster shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise. If you have followed this team the past few seasons its not the big InterPro’s or the big European games that Connacht tend to struggle to perform in. It’s the games against mid table teams or bottom level teams that Connacht tend to look their poorest. For whatever reason, it is the games where you expect Connacht to win and sometimes win easy that they look flat and lethargic. Good news so that Leinster are the visitors this week.
The individual performances we saw against Munster impressed me the most. Dave Heffernan had his best game in over a year and was accurate with his throws and an absolute physical menace around the pitch.
Gavin Thornbury showed his class at second row.
Jack Carty brings a confidence and a calmness at 10 that transforms the team. Conor Fitzgerald at full back gives the team a whole new dynamic with the left boot option. Good performances by all which should mean confidence is high going into this week.
One win can change so much. I can only imagine the mood around camp this week has been amazing. Getting up to go to training that much easier. Leinster are coming to town and what better game to prepare for. Is it realistic to expect a win this weekend, of course not but getting that win last weekend means that there is a bit of hope now, some confidence about the team.
Connacht have recent memories of beating Leinster and really putting it up to them, they also have memories of getting beaten comprehensively
So hard to tell what the mindset will be going into the game.
What would be nice to see against Leinster is a sharper all around performance.
This Connacht team need to be more clinical, taking chances when they create them and getting a return on all their pressure.
Going in three points down at half time against Munster was inexcusable. Connacht won’t have the same dominance against Leinster so when a chance does present itself, it needs to be taken if they are to have a chance of winning. Making better decisions is another key area. Playing to their strengths and playing the percentages is an area where Connacht can make big strides in. This is the work in progress. It’s always good to have something to work on and a positive when you think just how much better Connacht can be.
As I have said, its not the games against Leinster that will decide Connacht’s season. One team is aiming to win the league and Champions Cup while the other just wants to finish top eight and qualify for the Champions Cup. The next few weeks are far more important to Connacht. Scarlets and Ospreys are the rivals after this weekend and two wins from those games are essential if Connacht are to have a run at the top eight. It is usually those games that Connacht struggle to perform and they will be the real indicators of where this team is at. In the meantime, however, I think Connacht fans will take a huge upset win against Leo Cullen’s men before planning about what’s next.