RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Connacht
Is this the season where Connacht finally get rid of their “gallant losers” tag and upset some of the big names in European rugby?
Thankfully the rugby season is nearly upon us but as this weekend sees the RaboDirect PRO12 get underway. We profile each province ahead of the 2012/2013 season.
By Declan Whooley
The Ospreys are the defending champions but will face stiff competition to retain the crown they won so dramatically at the RDS last season. Our provinces are shaping up nicely for the coming season will all look to improve on the previous season.
In the lead-up to the opeing weekend we will concentrate on the provinces with an in-depth look at each side.
First up we profile Connacht, the up-and-coming side that is now expecting rather than hoping.
2011/12 was a mixed bag for Connacht in the RaboDirect PRO12. September saw the start of winless run of fourteen games in all competitions. South African hooker Ethienne Reynecke even took the unusual step of addressing fans personally to ask for their continued support through a difficult period.
Their inter-provincial record saw them record a solitary win at home to Ulster in April. Eric Elwood’s side were beaten by a total of 12 points over two games against Leinster, while Munster also left Galway with a narrow victory. However a highest-ever league finish of 8th was achieved despite suffering six defeats by an average of four points.
Moment of the season
With an impressive run of performances after Christmas, Connacht wanted to seal their final home game of the season with Aironi. Trailing 16-3 at one stage, they battled back to leave the scores level when matt Jarvis was presented with a penalty just inside his own half to cap a brilliant comeback.
As the clip shows, Jarvis made light work of the distance to send supporters and players into rapturous celebrations.
Dan Parks has been the marquee signing with the out-half joining on a two year deal from the Cardiff Blues. Heineken Cup winners Nathan White and Jason Harris-Wright will bolster front row options, with back-rower Willie Faloon joining from Ulster. AIL signings Brian Murphy and Mata Fifita add options in the backs, with Garryowen prop JP Cooney providing extra cover in the front row.
Key Player – Dan Parks
All eyes will be on Dan Parks to see if the 67 capped Scottish international can guide Connacht to more victories. The 34 year-old is the highest ever points scorer in the Rabo, and supporters will look to the Australian-born outhalf to guide the team through close encounters. No pressure then Dan.
Young player to watch – Kieran Marmion
After starring in Connacht’s U-20’s Grand Slam season, scrum-half Kieran Marmion played an instrumental role in Ireland’s highest ever finish in the IRB Junior Championship in South Africa. He has Frank Murphy, Paul O’Donohoe and Dave Moore currently ahead of him in the pecking order, but will hope to use the British & Irish Cup to showcase his undoubted ability.
Going on Declan kidney’s past Ireland selections, it would appear highly unlikely to have any players on the plane to Australia. Four players were called up to the summer tour of New Zealand with prop Ronan Loughney making his international bow. Brett Wilkinson, Mike McCarthy and Gavin Duffy did not get any game time, and it is difficult to see any Connacht player getting enough time in a green jersey to make the squad.
Prediction – 6th
Eric Elwood is building a strong squad and will hope to continue where they left off last year. A play-off position may be just out of reach, but a clean bill of health could see Connacht finish mid-table.
If they were a biscuit they would be……….Own Brand Labels
Dismissed in the past for being of inferior quality to their rivals, they have made huge strides in the past couple of years to change public perception. Closed the gap to the bigger players considerably and now a competitive player.
Looking to overtake some of its rivals in the national market over the coming years though it may not happen in the next 12 months.
Most likely headline
Connacht Battle Elements to Claim Victory at the Sportsground
Least likely headline
Parks Outstanding in his Own Field