KK focuses on the positives as 'naive' Connacht take aim at another crucial clash

‘It just put a smile on my face that we kept coming back and coming back. That’s pleasing for me.’

Sean Farrell reports from the Sportsground

PERHAPS KIERAN KEANE was aware of the glum persona he can sometimes project, more likely he was cognisant of the growing grumbles among supporters, either way the Kiwi was a font of positivity in the wake of Connacht’s 28 – 33 Challenge Cup quarter-final loss at home to Gloucester yesterday.

Kieran Marmion and Kieran Keane during the post match press conference Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

There was a lot to like about a match in which his side scored four excellent tries and battled back to make it a two-point game in the late stages despite the deficit twice sitting in double figures.

Keane also made contented noises about the lunchtime kick-off and the festival feel Connacht and Gloucester gave to an uncharacteristically sunny Sportsground – though when you consider the high error-rate from both sides, ‘festival’ isn’t necessarily a positive in a knock-out European fixture.

“To be honest, I’m not disappointed,” said Keane.

I thought it was a great day, a great occasion. It was lovely to play in the day time. The boys got really pumped up for the game. The spectacle, the atmosphere, everything, it was just a good day of rugby.”

The Challenge Cup could have delivered a sensational ticker-tape and trophy-laden route to next season’s Champions Cup for Connacht. But qualification for the big tournament is still possible if Keane’s side can upset the odds in the Pro14. So the head coach made sure to resist the urge to dwell on the road not taken.

“If I did that, I’d go crazy. That would be maddening for me. What’s transpired has transpired,” he said.

“Between the management and players I think you won’t see us fall away. You won’t see us chuck it up. We’re not that type of team. There’s more character in this team than people realise.”

Matt Healy celebrates scoring a try Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Battling back from 10 and then 12 points down, attacking in search of a fifth try and an improbable victory until the very  last; there was absolutely no doubting Connacht’s resolve and character in a sapping duel with the Premiership side. What was lacking, Keane says, was a touch of street-smarts and clinical composure to keep the screw turning when Gloucester looked rattled.

“I don’t know what the right word is but sometimes people use the word ‘sabotage’. Look, we allowed them into the game a little too easily. But it just put a smile on my face that we kept coming back and coming back. That’s pleasing for me, it means I can do something.”

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“I’d say the naivety was by us in allowing them to do that (build pressure and territory). It’s not rocket science… you’re in an exit position in the back third of the field then you need to do x, y and z.

Bundee Aki on his way to scoring a try Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“If the opposition manage to upset that then they’re going to make hay. That’s why I termed that a little bit naive, just our game management broke down a little bit.”

The season as a whole is not yet out of commission, however. With South African teams unable to qualify for European tournaments, the fifth-ranked team in Pro14 Conference A will enter a play-off for a Champions Cup place against the fourth-ranked team from Conference B.

Connacht currently occupy sixth in Conference A. And though their three remaining fixtures are daunting, before they face Leinster in Galway and Glasgow away, they travel to meet the team just a point ahead of them in Conference A, Ospreys.

So they roll on, into another season-saver of a match.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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