Get your Mooju back: Connacht
Connacht has long been the forgotten province in Irish rugby but so far this season they have given the head honchos of Irish rugby something to think about.
No matter what way you slice it, Connacht don’t have the financial clout or the resources of some of the other provinces and, although that gap has closed somewhat in recent seasons, they've have had to make do with a smaller share of the pie.
In their 22 Pro12 league games last season, struggling Connacht managed just six wins and finished the year perched in tenth spot just above the lowly Italian teams. In this year’s Guinness Pro12, however, they have won four, drawn one and lost one of their opening six games and currently sit fifth in the Pro12 table.
Connacht have been a much improved side this season and good wins over Leinster, Edinburgh, Treviso and the Newport Gwent Dragons have boosted confidence in the province enormously.
One of the biggest problems facing the westerners last season was their tendency to lose the tight games and not close out their games from winning positions, but they seem to have cured that ailment this season. They have won all four of their games by less than one score and they have gained belief in themselves in the process.
Pat Lam has a good relationship with the players and they are playing for him
Pat Lam knows all about northern hemisphere rugby having played for both Northampton and Newcastle in England, and much of Connacht’s redemption (if it’s not too early to call it that) must be accredited to him. His policy of trusting youth is paying dividends and the likes of Kieran Marmion, Darragh Leader and Denis Buckley have blossomed under his tutelage, as has young fly-half Jack Carty who looks a more rounded player every time he takes the field.
His decision to bring in Mils Muliaina as both player and mentor for the younger players is already reaping its rewards. While the All Black has yet to take to the field, he has taken many of the skills sessions among the players and his winning mentality is a vital asset to the dressing room. Jason Harris-Wright is the latest player to come out in praise of the former All-Black and has praised the Kiwi’s knowledge and his input into training sessions.
Connacht’s win over Leinster caused quite a stir in the rugby world and many people have now started to sit up and take notice of them. Leinster fielded a strong team with a number of established internationals but Connacht absorbed the pressure and made them look quite average in attack at times; not something you associate with Leinster. The westerner’s defence was impressive and a moment of genius from Kieran Marmion allowed them to claim the win.
Video via Leinster Rugby TV.
A real sign of Connacht’s arrival at the top table of the Pro12 is the disappointment felt by the team and the fans at the 24-24 draw with the Cardiff Blues in the Sportsground. Not too long ago that would have been a positive result against a strong team but times have changed, standards have been raised, and both the fans and the team know they can do better than a draw in these types of fixtures.
Now, while some may worry that this rise may not last and injuries to key players could mean a regression on the pitch and a drop in the table, Connacht still have to welcome new signings Bundee Aki, Tom McCartney and Mils Muliaina into the team, all three of whom bring a wealth of skill and experience. An unfortunate run of injuries could derail the Connacht momentum, but if they can keep key players fit and firing, there is no reason why they can't add handsomely to their four wins already this season.
The west’s awake…
Get your Mooju back with great tasting chocolate and strawberry milk…
Images via Inpho.