Pat Lam laws down the law to his Connacht players. INPHO/Ryan Byrne
glass half hopeful

Kiwi influx means Connacht can re-join Europe's elite in 2015

Former Connacht hooker Adrian Flavin reviews the province’s season and tips them to qualify for the Rugby Champions Cup.

IT WAS GREAT to see, this week, that the IRFU are buying into the Connacht project by providing an additional €1m in funding.

A large part of that will go towards improving facilities and the wages for strength and conditioning coach Paul Bunce but, if they can spare it, Pat Lam may seek to get in a defence or backs coach. He has worldwide contacts and would not be short of a few good numbers in his phone-book.

The signing of the three New Zealanders — Mils Muliaina, Bundee Aki and Tom McCartney — will see the addition of players with big game experience. I did not pay too much attention to the grumbling over Muliaina’s signature but what I would say to any provinces complaining is ‘Make sure your own back garden is in order’. This is our first All Black in 19 seasons of professional rugby so let us enjoy it.

Connacht will get another pre-season under Lam and the aim will be qualifying for Europe off their own steam.

My end of season review

Best game: Toulouse away in the Heineken Cup. That resulted demonstrated how form and reputation, on any given day, counts for nothing in rugby. I had a really good feeling, knowing the lads, that they would pull something out of the bag. The only shame is that I did not back that intuition up at the bookmakers.

I was up in Dublin at the time and was recording the game. I was following it on Twitter and, with 20 minutes to go and Connacht still leading, I had to find a nearby pub to watch the end. I actually bumped into [Connacht prop] Ronan Loughney, who was injured at the time. It was fantastic. One of the biggest if not the biggest shock in the Heineken Cup.

Worst game: As the players and coaches would readily admit, the Saracens away game in the Heineken Cup. It was not a good day at the office, to say the least. As a former player and a follower of the club I was shocked by the drop-off in performances levels as the game fell out of reach. Saracens have some top-class players and were clinical that day but it was a reality check.

Kieran Marmion 20/5//2014 Kieran Marmion trains with Ireland on Tuesday. Inpho / Billy Stickland Inpho / Billy Stickland / Billy Stickland

Best player: Kieran Marmion. The scrum-half’s young teammate Robbie Henshaw is going from strength to strength but he was the stand-out player. His durability, in terms of how much he actually plays and the high levels he plays to, are remarkable. He has kicked on in his second full season and added try-scoring to his game. He had an absolute in the home defeat to Saracens, a game Connacht should have won. I’m delighted to see him and Henshaw included on the Argentina tour and I hope they get some game time.

Room to improve: If there is one area to improve it has to be consistency. In the space of a month they went from beating Toulouse away to getting well beaten by Saracens. It is quite frustrating for all involved. If they can get some consistency, and they should as Lam is well settled, they can realistically aim for sixth spot.

@adrianflavin played 159 times for Connacht between 2006 and 2013 and earned two Ireland Wolfhounds caps.

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