CONNACHT HAVE TAKEN to the Heineken Cup extremely well in their opening forays of Europe’s elite competition. They have four wins in two seasons and have defeated heavyweights, Harlequins and Biarritz.
They are less than a week away from their third Heineken Cup campaign and will face off against last season’s semi-finalists, Saracens. Sarries, inspired by Will Fraser and Chris Ashton in their early outings, are top of the Premiership with four wins from four. Connacht, on the other hand, are struggling.
Last night’s 23 — 3 loss to Benetton Treviso was Connacht’s fourth in a row. The westerners never looked remotely in the game and two sloppy tries scored by the Italians in the second half sent Pat Lam’s men home empty-handed.
The leaked tries were indicative of a team low on moral and harked back to Lam’s complaint last week [after a home loss to Ospreys] that individual players needed to be accountable for their errors. Danie Poolman was beaten on his outside by Luca Morisi for the second but Alessandro Zanni’s opportunist score was a defensive horror show.
YouTube credit: RaboDirect PRO12
It is too early in the season to roundly condemn the New Zealander but there have been three pre-season defeats, too, and a solitary victory over lowly Zebre. With three home games and two matches against Italian opposition in Connacht’s opening five RaboDirect Pro12 fixtures, Lam would have been targeting three victories.
It is worth remembering that Eric Elwood, the previous head coach, oversaw a forlorn, 10-game losing streak in 2011/12 so four on the bounce is nothing to earth-shattering. However, Connacht captain John Muldoon told TheScore.ie at the start of the season that the province was targeting four Heineken Cup wins and a best ever league finish of sixth.
Three of Connacht’s next league opponents — Leinster [away], Glasgow [home], Scarlets [home] — finished in the top four last season. Hopes remain high for a best ever Heineken Cup campaign and will remain so until the final whistle blows at the Sportsground next week.
With a new coach in place and players such as Craig Clarke and Fionn Carr joining promising talents, such as Robbie Henshaw and Kieran Mamrion, hopes were similarly high for the Pro12 before the season kicked off. Failure to arrest the losing run against extremely tough league opposition may end Connacht’s season before it ever really began.