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'We are not far off but we are still going to have to be much better over the next two weeks'

The fixture list hasn’t been kind to Connacht – they face Munster and Ulster in their next two games.

Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

FOR CONNACHT, THERE has been consistency in their inconsistency. Last season they won eight of their regular season PRO14 games to earn a Champions Cup place. But they also lost eight.

Onto the Rainbow Cup. They opened up with an away win in Belfast. Next time out they shipped 50 points to Leinster.

No one expected them to go from there and win in Munster. But they did. Could they follow that victory up with one in Treviso? No. They lost whatever chance they had of a spot in the Rainbow Cup final in the Italian sunshine. But, in keeping with their season, they rebounded from that defeat to win their final game of the campaign.

Now to this season.

Cardiff beat them in round one; Connacht downed the Bulls in round two. That brought the Dragons to town. Lowly Dragons, two defeats from two, rated by no one, what could go wrong? Well, we got the answer on Saturday. To start with, Dean Ryan’s side are a lot better this season than they were last year. No one – as Leinster discovered – will beat them up. “You have to give credit to them,” said Andy Friend, the Connacht coach, afterwards. “They were far more disciplined and organised and controlled than we were.”

In many ways they did a Connacht on Connacht.

Written off beforehand, they stayed in the fight. Trailing 6-3 during the first half, they took a surprise lead half-way through it; behind 12-8 at half-time, they won the game with a blitz in the third quarter. And even when Connacht scored a couple of tries in that crazy second half, Dragons replied immediately with a couple of their own.

“We just lacked energy,” said Friend. “I can’t put my finger on why that was the case because I actually thought we prepared really well during the week but you look at that performance and we obviously hadn’t. We have got to be better than that.”

It helps that Bundee Aki will be back for them next week. There were some bruised bodies as well as some bruised pride on Saturday. Cian Prendergast, the flanker, who has been an excellent line-out option so far this season, is unlikely to feature this weekend against Munster; Kieran Marmion failed a late fitness test just prior to the Dragons match while Oisin Dowling, the second row, split his lip early in the first half.

cian-prendergast-and-rhodri-williams Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Injuries heal but psychological wounds tend to linger a bit longer and the Connacht camp know they need to sort their issues out pretty quickly.

“The frustrating part is that we were not far off,” said Paul Boyle afterwards. “But that is not good enough and we are going to have to be so much better over the next two weeks.

“All is not lost. What it felt like out there, especially in that first half, was that we were close to taking them down. We just did not do it.

“Parts of our performance just weren’t up to scratch – not up to the level we know we can play at. We’ll be reviewing ourselves and see where we can be better.

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“From my initial thoughts we couldn’t get our energy right. Every time we did something half good we couldn’t finish it off and make it completely good.”

The good news is they have time to do so. Only three games of the season have been played. The bad news is their next two fixtures are against Munster and Ulster, the two teams with three bonus-point wins to their name.

“All is not lost,” said Friend, “but if we don’t change that performance then it will be very quickly.”

Looking at it logically, you’d imagine they’ll struggle given the strength of the opposition. But rugby games aren’t always decided by budgets. Sometimes the underdogs win, as Connacht did at the RDS, Ravenhill and Thomond Park last season, as Dragons did in the Sportsground on Saturday.

“For all of us, we have got to also look at our own energy and let’s not get too high when we have those types of wins like we had against the Bulls,” said Friend. “I thought we needed to celebrate last week but we didn’t celebrate it crazily. It wasn’t like we went onto the sauce for three days. We didn’t do that. It was a case of ‘go and enjoy that’. We have an eight day turnaround and I thought we worked really hard but the performance out there on Saturday suggests otherwise.”

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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