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Dublin: 14 °C Wednesday 22 May, 2019
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'Man, when we get it right, we get it right' - Connacht coach Keane

It’s what happens between the peak of their performance that has Connacht facing another year in the Challenge Cup.

Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

THE MAJORITY OF the 8,129 who made their way up College Road and into the Sportsground for Saturday’s early lunchtime kick-off, did so in the hope of seeing something new and a bit different.

Gloucester are relatively familiar opposition in the west and all three of the previous meetings with Connacht – two Heineken Cup pool matches and one epic Champions Cup play-off – had gone the way of the Premiership club.

A welcome change of pace could have come in the form of not coughing up an early try. Or perhaps a clinical turn of the screw when they got their noses in front – and later within a kick of the lead.

Unfortunately for the Western faithful, they got plenty of excitement, but also the all too familiar taste of defeat and errors that have pushed Connacht down to sixth in Pro14 Conference A.

“When we’re in possession we look pretty good at times, but sometimes we don’t,” said Kieran Keane, slipping out of the early positive mood that shone through the opening responses in his post-match press conference.

“So if we get a little narrow in our attack, things go awry for us. But some of our attack is… that try of Bundee Aki’s was a great team try. I don’t think you’d see too many better this weekend.

Man, when we get it right, we get it right. But we don’t always get it right.”

Aki’s try was a thing of beauty: Tom McCartney was at the heart of the move twice. First the hooker broke the line in midfield off a lovely offload from prop Denis Buckley, and after letting outside backs make yards, he popped up on the shoulder of Jack Carty as they 10 engineered a gap and invited Aki on a storming run to the try-line.

Kieran Marmion celebrates scoring a try Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

It was the best of Connacht’s four tries, but for every thrilling score there was a soft concession at the other end – and a few kicks to make the difference.

A week on from conceding the Pro14′s all-time fastest try against Edinburgh, Keane’s men looked to be setting out a solid enough stall until a cruel bounce from a stolen line-out gave James Hanson the opening try of the game. Both early setbacks were mightily unfortunate when viewed in isolation. But they join a queue of stuttering openings that have left the Westerners needing to dig their way out of trouble.

Keane will put many of this campaigns lowlights down to “growing pains” and as a first-year coach there is a need for patience for the team to become fully accustomed to his structures. However, the frustrating error count has been a familiar shadow all season.

“Some of the stuff that went on in the game was quite magnificent and some of it was a little bit off. The good parts, as we have already alluded to, are good enough so let’s just add to the good bits.

“If we can add more and more to the good bits, then yeah, we’ll be much better.”

“I do believe we’re a little bit naive as a team still. So from my perspective we do have an issue about allowing teams two get into an area and get the ball.

“Second half, an example: I’m not going to talk too much about it, but they squeezed us looking for the penalty. I mean the whole team knew that it was going to happen, but we gave the penalty away at the scrum time and that gave them the eight or nine point (lead). So little things like that, we know what’s going on but unfortunately we slip up sometimes.”

John Afoa runs in a try John Afoa lands the killer blow. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

With all the slips combined it would take an outstanding finish to the Pro14 campaign for Connacht to avoid having their name in the Challenge Cup draw for next season. Having just enjoyed his side’s day in the sun and a frenetic eight-try European knockout game at the end of a week lined with promising signings from Australia, Keane wasn’t ready to be downcast about what awaits Connacht next season.

“You can’t look at the doom and gloom of what actually, possibly is going to become reality. Otherwise you’ll wake up in the morning and wonder what the hell you’re doing.

“I think the team is in a good space, we’ve got growing pains, we’re learning, we’re getting tighter as a group. We’ve recruited really well, we’re looking forward to this and that and we’re trying to get our house in order.”

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

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Sean Farrell

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