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Tuesday 31 January 2023 Dublin: 8°C
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Connacht's new behind-the-scenes doc is something rugby needs more of
The show focuses on three Connacht players during the 2021/22 season.

THE MOST HUMAN moments are among the best ones in a new Connacht documentary called ‘Relentless.’

There’s the scene in which Connacht lock Niall Murray is sitting having dinner with his family and his mother asks if he’s going on a date that weekend. Her query is met with a smile and a ‘no.’ It’s a nice contrast to training footage of Murray smashing into tackles on his Connacht team-mates.

Murray is one of three players who come in for particular focus in this new hour-long behind-the-scenes show, which will premiere on RTÉ1 next Thursday 3 November at 10.15pm. 

Ireland international Bundee Aki and injury-plagued centre Tom Farrell are the two other stars of the doc, which follows Connacht during the 2021/22 season. These are three players at very different stages of their careers with very different challenges.

Connacht supporters will enjoy this glimpse behind the curtain. At one stage, we’re in the room as Andy Friend announces his team for the next game to Connacht’s players and the strain it causes the head coach is obvious. Murray is among those left disappointed.

We see Friend delivering a speech in the changing room, while there’s also an impassioned one from Aki at half-time of a Leinster game. We get insight into how tough it is for Farrell rehabbing from his latest injury. David Howarth and Johnny O’Connor give us insight into the physical side of the team’s preparation. It’s eye-opening to see a tired-looking Aki say he basically hasn’t had a break from playing and training for two years. 

Produced by Red Bull, one of Connacht’s sponsors, the documentary does perhaps have overly long match scenes. Supporters really want more of the stuff around the games, the stuff inside the changing rooms, the gym, as well as the players’ lives off the pitch.

AF Relentless / Red Bull Andy Friend speaks to the Connacht players. Relentless / Red Bull / Red Bull

In that sense, Murray perhaps comes away as the biggest winner. It seems likely that some people tuning in to watch next week won’t know a lot about the 23-year-old but they’re likely to come away from it rooting for him as he chases his dream of playing for Ireland.

The most recent sighting of Aki on a rugby pitch was his red card and haranguing of the match officials, which earned him an eight-week ban that means he misses out on Ireland’s November Tests. So the timing of this doc really couldn’t be better, as we see the softer side of the Connacht talisman when he’s with his family.

Farrell comes across well too. It’s impossible not to feel for him as he deals with the isolation of being injured and out of the team. 

The point here is that everyone involved comes out of it the better. Sure, we’re obviously missing big chunks of their rugby lives and personalities. This is a short film – it could even have benefited from being a multi-episode show – but the players will only further themselves in the eyes of supporters.

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The fans get more insight into life behind the scenes and Connacht presumably get more cash for their willingness to open the doors. It’s a win-win-win.

Rugby is a sport that still has something of an image problem. In recent years, players have often been at pains to show none of their individual personalities and quirks in public. They’re often so focused on being good team-mates and not pissing off their coaches that they simply don’t say anything at all. Rugby is guilty of quashing personalities at times.

niall-murray Billy Stickland / INPHO Niall Murray comes across well in the new doc. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Members of The42 will know that we’re passionate about rugby opening up the doors more often, allowing supporters and potential new fans into their world a little more. They don’t need to see every gory detail but there is a huge benefit from giving the sport a bit more personality.

Rugby needs more stuff like this and ‘Chasing the Sun,’ which went behind the scenes of the Springboks’ 2019 World Cup success. England’s ‘The Next Level’ series on YouTube is excellent too. 

It’s encouraging to see the trickle turning into more of a stream but there’s still a way to go for the sport in this sphere. Rugby is serious business, for sure, but there is also the reality that the pro game is an entertainment industry. Connacht deserve credit for their open-mindedness.

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