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Can't beat their Irish rivals, lethal against everyone else

The reason Connacht aren’t flying higher in the Pro14 comes down to their four-game losing streak in this season’s inter-pros.

Niall Murray is dejected after Connacht lose to Leinster.
Niall Murray is dejected after Connacht lose to Leinster.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

IF IT IS going to happen for Connacht, it has to be now. They can’t afford to wait any longer. A season that began so promisingly has stalled alarmingly, the Christmas round of inter-pros leaving red-pen marks across their copybook.

You could be cruel and say they aren’t good enough for the business end of proceedings, that whenever they’ve been handed the biggest tests, they haven’t delivered. Yet, once you delve a little deeper into their results, something else becomes apparent.

In 11 Pro14 games this season, their record of six wins, five defeats suggests inconsistency. Now look again. In seven matches against sides from the championship’s other four countries – Wales, Scotland, South Africa and Italy – Connacht’s record reads: played seven, won six, lost one.

That’s a significant difference, not least because over the next six weeks they’re entering an Irish-free zone. Edinburgh await in Murrayfield tonight [KO 7.35pm, eir sport], then the hapless Kings, then another conference rival, Scarlets, followed by Zebre away and Glasgow at home.

If Andy Friend’s team are to qualify for the play-offs, and there is no reason why they aren’t good enough to get there, then this is when they have to make hay.

Remember 2015/16? Connacht fans will never forget it. What may have slipped their minds, however, is the fact that season, too, was a World Cup year, and while other teams suffered desperately in the absence of their internationals, Connacht thrived during those periods, winning 10 out of 11 league matches during the World Cup and Six Nations windows.

john-muldoon-lift-the-guinness-pro12-trophy Glory days: can Connacht repeat them in 2020? Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Again, this season, they excelled during the early rounds of the season – winning four out of five Pro14 matches during the World Cup, their squad less dented than others while the tournament was ongoing. If this suggests good fortune on Connacht’s part then bear something else in mind. They have had to play Leinster twice this season (losing 54-7 and 42-11), but Edinburgh and Scarlets are scheduled to meet Leo Cullen’s side just once, a quirk of the Pro14’s two-Conference structure.

Considering how superior Connacht’s record is against non-Irish sides – you’d imagine they will kick on now, knowing they have only two derbies still to play this season, one of which is at home to Ulster.

Last week’s destruction of Cardiff was certainly a good starting point, Jack Carty producing his best performance of the season, Kieran Marmion looking fitter than at any stage in over a year. Good enough to reach the quarters? Of course they are. But so are Edinburgh, who laid down a marker with a significant 14-9 win on the road last week at Scarlets.

Under Richard Cockerill, they have improved immeasurably. You don’t just get to see good basics any more either. They’re easy on the eye, hard to beat. If Connacht do manage to get one over the Conference B leaders tonight, the play-offs will never seem so reachable.

 Connacht:

15 . Tiernan O’Halloran
14. Niyi Adeolokun
13. Kyle Godwin
12. Peter Robb
11.  John Porch
10. Jack Carty
9. Kieran Marmion

1. Denis Buckley
2. Shane Delahunt
3.  Finlay Bealham
4. Niall Murray
5. Joe Maksymiw
6. Paul Boyle
7. Colby Fainga’a
8. Jarrad Butler (captain)

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Replacements:

16. Jonny Murphy
17. Paddy McAllister
18. Dominic Robertson-McCoy
19. Eoghan Masterson
20. Eoin McKeon
21. Caolin Blade
22. Conor Fitzgerald
23. Tom Daly

Edinburgh:

15. Damien Hoyland
14. Eroni Sau
13. Mark Bennett
12. Matt Scott
11. Duhan van der Merwe
10. Simon Hickey
9. Nic Groom (captain)

1. Pierre Schoeman
2. Mike Willemse
3. Simon Berghan
4. Stan South
5. Lewis Carmichael
6. Nick Haining
7. Luke Crosbie
8. Viliame Mata

Replacements:

16. Cameron Fenton
17. Murray McCallum
18. Dan Winning
19. Jamie Hodgson
20. John Barclay
21. Charlie Shiel
22. Jaco van der Walt
23. George Taylor

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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