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KK laments Connacht defending 'with their gut and not their brain' with game on the line

“We’re learning them the hard way. No other way to say it.”

Sean Farrell reports from the Sportsground

THEIR WIND-ASSISTED first-half performance left much to be desired and rightly tops the list of problems with Connacht’s 15 – 17 loss to Cardiff on Saturday. Yet the fact remains that they very nearly did enough to salvage a win.

3 -7 down at half-time. 8 – 7 up after an hour, 8 – 10 down minutes later, but 15 – 10 to the good with 75 on the clock thanks to Shane Delahunt try and a brilliant Darragh Leader touchline conversion.

Shane Delahunt scores a try Source: James Crombie/INPHO

From there on in though, they were unable to switch modes from passion to precision.

“I just think we switched off for a fraction and paid the price. It’s pretty clear to me that, had we been a bit more clinical about how we got out of there – we had two minutes on the clock and we should have used them, but we didn’t so we lost.,” says head coach Kieran Keane, his tongue slightly looser after an abrupt live section of the press conference.

As well as the error that gave the Blues the platform of a scrum in Connacht territory, the Kiwi zones in on the defensive setup as the visitors unfolded their set-play. Willis Halaholo had already shown off his danger in this game, but he jinked inside a glut of flailing tacklers off a Jarrod Evans pass and the green line never managed to readjust, following the next phase towards their right corner and not registering a massive overlap of blue jerseys towards the Clan Terrace.

(Watch the winning play from 3.30 in the video clip)

Source: PRO14 Rugby/YouTube

“I’d put it down to panic,” Keane adds of Halaholo’s second try – the centre opted to dummy rather than use the full overlap – “when I looked, from up on high, you could see everything unfolding from that scrum: everyone was too tight, nobody was looking up.

“Everybody was trying to react with their gut and not their brain. They weren’t talking to each other and there were about five people on two players, so that created space for other players. That’s defence 101.

We’ve got to take into consideration that they’ve fought all the way back. They were playing with their heart, playing for the crowd and their families. They showed guts and determination, but the smarts went out the window, didn’t they, for the last minute and a half.”

Keane has already inferred this season that he has noticed some traces of mental frailty within his squad. Coughing up a late lead at home is hardly a rebuttal to that assessment, but Keane says he will continue putting pressure on his men in the hope of solidifying their nerve.

“Put people under pressure is the way I find it’s easiest. But lessons are sometimes hard learned. We’re learning them the hard way. No other way to say it.”

Of course, the final minutes might not have mattered if Connacht had been able to make use of the advantage that blew in from Lough Atalia in the first-half. Keane steered clear of giving any analytical assessment so soon after full-time, but a self-described ‘emotional man’ – albeit one who was doing his best to appear stoic – did lament the general mood that fed the first-half malaise.

Olly Robinson celebrates with his team after winning a penalty Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Rugby’s so much about attitude and commitment and I thought we lacked in both those areas.”

“For that (one win from four) I’ve got to take the blame. It’s a difficult thing. We’ve prepared well for the last two weeks and we’ve gone down. There have been improvements made throughout the two weeks and there was a good feel in the camp.”

“We are where we are. We possibly could have pulled that one out of the bag – possibly should have –  but we dug a hole for ourselves in the first 40 and paid the price. We got what we deserved in the end. We got nothing.”

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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