AN UNCHANGED TEAM for the third week in a row, a four game winning streak and genuine hope of qualifying for the Heineken Cup off their own steam — Connacht are riding high but need to follow it up in Wales this afternoon.
Eoin McKeon was part of the Connacht pack that tormented a beleaguered Dragons front eight at Rodney Parade last weekend. The home side had a new front row after the half hour mark as Pat Lam’s men scored three tries from rolling mauls and dominant scrummaging. They face Simon Easterby’s Scarlets today and, outside shot that it is, will leapfrog the Welsh side into sixth if they get another bonus point win.
McKeon told TheScore.ie, “It is not the highest we have ever felt but the four wins have definitely made it easier to come in for training on a Monday. We’re not getting too caught up in the run. We’re trusting in our processes and the results are starting to come. Scarlets are a decent side — they were up near the top earlier in the season — but our approach will be no different.”
Scarlets’ top four hopes have suffered some grievous blows in recent weeks but they have a swathe of home games left and will be confident of seeing off a resurgent Connacht side. They lost to Ulster at Ravenhill earlier this month but defeated Munster, at home, to hobble their title charge. McKeon commented:
Munster went out with the wrong attitude. They were top of the table and thought they could bully Scarlets. Welsh sides thrive on that, when teams take them on up front and seek out a physical battle.”
McKeon remarks, with young stars like Robbie Henshaw and Kieran Marmion in the backline, ‘it is nice for a change’ that Connacht’s forwards are getting praise. “Last week we really needed the backs to make big tackles and win some big penalties. A lot of that goes unseen but is vital, especially in this current run,” said McKeon. The inclusion of Rodney Ah You in the Ireland training squad, he adds, has given the prop a confidence, and technique, boost that has benefited Connacht. “He is going up against Cian Healy and Mike Ross so that has to have a real impact on his game,” McKeon added.
McKeon missed almost three months of the season with separate foot and hand injuries. He returned in time to feature, off the bench, in the famous away win over Toulouse. He was Connacht’s best player the week after as Toulouse, inspired by opposite number Louis Picamoles, gained revenge. McKeon said, “Sometimes you don’t get to fully see how good a player has done against you unless you clash in the game. If was only after that game that I looked back at Picamoles and thought ‘Jeez, he was good’.”
Source: James Crombie/INPHO
McKeon had his sights on a GAA career up until he was 10 and his family moved across town. He was enrolled in a rugby school from fifth class, followed suit in secondary. He ‘dabbled’ as a lock and flanker but flourished as a ball-carrying No.8. “If I had the choice again,” he remarked, “I’d slip into the 10 slot and stay there.” He avidly supported Galwegians and Connacht and, as far as the province is concerned, has noted a rise in interest season upon season. “Each year,” he said, “it seems to get that bit more professional — the players, media, managing, website and marketing. They have some great posters around town now for the home games.”
While Connacht will achieve their stated goal if they finish sixth, or higher, this season, McKeon has personal ambitions. Having played in the 2011 Junior World Championship with the likes of Jordi Murphy and Rhys Ruddock, the 22-year-old is keen to follow them into the senior Ireland squad. “We set goals for ourselves every summer and, unfortunately, my injuries have hampered them somewhat. Finishing the season well with Connacht is the main priority but Heineken Cup rugby can only help my ambitions to break into the Ireland set-up.”
CONNACHT: Robbie Henshaw; Tiernan O’Halloran, Eoin Griffin, Dave McSharry, Fionn Carr; Dan Parks, Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, Jason Harris-Wright; Rodney Ah You; Aly Muldowney, Mick Kearney; John Muldoon (capt.), Eoghan Masterson, Eoin McKeon.
Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Ronan Loughney, Nathan White, Michael Swift, Andrew Browne, Frank Murphy, Miah Nikora, Darragh Leader.