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Good display ends in defeat

knock on pic
A HOLDING ROLE Connemara’s Richard Burke grabs hold of Corinthian’s Sean Ruane during Saturday’s AIL Division 3 League clash at Corinthians Park.

Good display ends in defeat

Rob Murphy

CONNACHT are nothing if not consistent at the moment.  On Sunday at Thomond Park, they once again produced a performance that belies their recent poor run of results.  
In every area of the field bar the scoreboard, they made a strong case for victory. But as has been the case throughout this frustrating campaign, they just couldn’t find the class needed to turn possession into points.
Munster were unable to pin down their opponents and rarely looked anywhere close to their best. Their backline play was disjointed and lacking cohesion – three times they were penalised for crossing in the confusion. Their forward play had sparks of brilliance but plenty of mediocrity.
Connacht played with a slight wind advantage in the opening half and kicked superbly.  Their lineout didn’t function as well as usual but it wasn’t detrimental and with surging breaks from Colm Rigney, Conor McPhillips, Keith Matthews and Mark McHugh throughout the opening period, there was plenty of reason for optimism.
Two Ronan O’Gara penalties gave Munster a 6-0 lead at the break. Both kicks came from avoidable penalties. The early stages of the second half provided Connacht with their best opportunity to score.  They dominated the third quarter of this contest and made three sustained visits to the Munster 22, all of which were fruitless.
It was clear from that point that Connacht hadn’t the class, composure or continuity in the backline to break down Munster. Up front their performance was truly excellent, but they were up against arguably the best pack in Europe, so asking them to win it on their own was a little too much. Munster sealed the victory after a rare foray into Connacht territory yielded a try for Christian Cullen.
A full strength Munster at home are rarely beaten and cribbing about a failure to take scores against a defence of that calibre seems harsh. But Connacht should have made more of their attacking play throughout. 
That said their performances this season continue to show that they are able to compete week in week out against the best teams in Europe. When one considers the huge budget restriction that they operate under, this has to be a major positive. 
Up font Michael Bradley can be proud of the unit he has assembled.  The front row is producing at scrum time although injuries to Stephen Knoop and Ray Hogan are a concern. The back five is the real success. Andrew Farley and David Gannon are capable of taking on any second row in European rugby at the moment.
The back row is an even bigger source of encouragement. Colm Rigney was Connacht’s best player on Sunday. After a number of indifferent displays, he stood up and delivered a performance that made him such a key figure in his days with Connacht under Steph Nel. Ray Ofisa was once again exceptional and John Muldoon is a match for anyone at this level; on Sunday it was the brilliant Alan Quinlan.
When Bradley took over the forward coaching two years ago many questioned the wisdom of this decision. But along with Dan McFarland, he has assembled a unit that competed with the best pack in Europe for the entire contest, only dipping slightly when the unimpressive Ryan Strudwick made his debut for the province.
It’s in the backline that the Connacht coach has the problems. He has chopped and changed selections in recent weeks in a valiant attempt to find a combination that can turn possession into points while not leaking tries in defence. However, it’s this lack of continuity in the backline that is costing Connacht dearly.
Connacht need to settle on a half back pairing and go with it. They need quicker ball at the breakdown, and they have to improve their ‘on the fly’ decision-making, which at the moment is non-existent.  Paul Warwick could provide the answer, Conor O’Loughlin, who was excellent as a replacement in the final 15 minutes, can provide the pace.
Moving Keith Matthews to first centre has seen Connacht concede just one try in two games, having let in five against Glasgow. Ted Robinson could come into the reckoning on the wing as Darren Yapp hasn’t found his spark to date. 
The upcoming Challenge Cup games at home and away to Montpellier will offer Bradley and his assistant Eric Elwood an opportunity to find a combination and allow it to settle into a rhythm. The pack will provide the platform; a cohesive backline might help Connacht out of this vicious circle.

CORINTHIANS OUTSMARTED Connemara on Saturday and gave their season a much-need morale boost with a crucial and well deserved victory. The poor weather meant the crowd was slightly smaller than had been expected, but there was still a healthy atmosphere throughout.
The whole afternoon was tremendously well organised by the Corinthians club, who held a mini rugby match between the under-12s of both clubs on the main pitch beforehand. A couple of entertaining encounters whetted the supporters’ appetite and set a perfect tone for the encounter ahead.
Afterwards the club’s under-20s took on UL Bohemians in the AIL and were unlucky to go down 8-3 against one of the strongest sides in the competition. Well done to all for a fine afternoon’s entertainment.
From a Mayo point of view, it was a boost to see an up-and-coming Ballinrobe talent, namely Pat Guckian, take the field for Corinthians midway through the second half. Guckian has the unusual distinction of being the first player in this column’s memory to go from playing AIL rugby down to Junior B (Ard na Cregg Cup final 2005) and back up to AIL again.  He made a bit of a bit of an impact too on Saturday with a couple of big hits to mark his return.

THE NEW Connacht rugby website continues to expand and this week it launched a new service entitled Connacht TV. Here fans will be able to watch highlights of Connacht games throughout the season. It’s a clear sign that the eyes of the Connacht Branch are set firmly on the future of sports communications.
The website was designed by the Galway-based Walsh Works Media and within weeks of its launch was nominated for a Golden Spider web site award. 
Content on the site comes from local journalist John Fallon of Media West (Ireland), who is involved with Connacht rugby communications this season in conjunction with the Connacht Rugby Media Officer Fergus Lynch. All involved deserve great credit for their efforts to date.

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