Hawkeye Sidekick

Connacht Rugby Woe

28-33. Connacht Rugby dreams of ending John Muldoon’s playing career with the Irish province with a European Rugby Challenge Cup were dashed as Gloucester Rugby retained their 100% record against Connacht Rugby with a deserved victory and a home semi-final. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action and the performance was unerringly familiar from the Westerners.

I do believe we’re a little bit naive as a team still. From my perspective we have an issue allowing teams into scoring areas. We know what’s going on, but unfortunately we slip up at times – Kieran Keane

This is a statement that will drive many Connacht Rugby fans cuckoo. Kieran Keane was magnanimous in his assessment of the team’s performance post-game but the points raised have being predominant for the whole season and there appear little progressive to address these chronic issues.

The game had started so well for Connacht Rugby. The opening exchanges won conclusively by the hosts as Gloucester Rugby yet again started a game ponderously. An excellent opening three minutes, a scrum penalty won and then a line out steal but the management of the line out steal again raises serious questions of team communication and organization.

Credit to Quinn Roux for the line out steal, an excellent play. He tipped the ball back on the Connacht side but the ball was directed in no man’s land. The nearest players to the ball were Denis Buckley and Matt Healy. The bounce of the ball cruelly reaching Hanson who with no defensive cover to contend with strode unopposed to the try line. Healy exposed for being too deep. Buckley not fast enough to deal with the passage of play.

A disastrous start from a promising opening. Gloucester Rugby you would have thought would have settled into the contest but there were continuing to attract the attention of Poite with their late arrival to line outs. Six penalties amassed when Ben Morgan was sinned bin for a high tackle on Tom Farrell.

The ten minute spell did yield a foothold for Connacht and it was a sweeping attacking move, full of pace and expansive threat that resulted in Marmion crossing over. A superb try where McCartney and Aki were prominent. The conversion was missed by Carty but the hosts were in the game. Aki then followed with a typically abrasive effort.

However, the defensive frailties and lapses in concentration were then seen to full effect by the hosts at the end of the half. Tom McCartney’s knock on after Gloucester Rugby blotched a throw to the back of the line out was critical. The resultant scrum setting up Marshall to score with ease; easy gain line yards created by the multiple Gloucester ball carriers before that score.

The Trinder try just before the interval emphasized the lack of defensive nous required in a key European fixture from Connacht Rugby. Trinder identified the mismatch against Roux and his pace was too much for the Irish international second row. Connacht’s defensive coach has to ask questions of how the side reacted to this line break. The back three in particular not providing any coverage. Soft score again to concede.

The one aspect of play which was exposed in the Sportsground was the lack of quality kicking option off the tee for Connacht Rugby. While Owen Williams was lights out with his kicking both out of hand and off the tee, Jack Carty was struggling with his kicking with the tee. Kick-able points were lost and when Williams hit a monster effort just after the break, it really emphasized the fact. Horowitz’s arrival will increase competition at ten in the province; it is required.

Marmion was left to become the sole creative force in the half-backs. The scrum half was excellent, sniping throughout and his grubber kick for Connacht’s winger Niyi Adeolokun to touchdown was a marvelous score. The conversion was again spurned but a subsequent penalty gave Connacht Rugby hope. 18-20 all to play for. Time to bring defense. Nope.

The manner in which John Afoa scored was embarrassing for Connacht. Defensive misreads and decision making allowing Gloucester to spin the ball out to Afoa with minimal fuss. Afoa could not realize his luck and ran from thirty meters to score the decisive try of the contest. Soul destroying from Connacht. Sensational score from Gloucester. 18-27.

Credit to Connacht Rugby who refused to give up but the defensive lapses which have plagued the season so far had provided its cameo yet again. No way can a side win with such unforced errors defensively. The Healy try was an excellent effort, another opportunity to bring the defense. Nope.

Connacht’s defensive shape exposed by Gloucester Rugby again who spread the ball out wide after a quality period of killing the clock. Connacht sucked in defensively and Jarrod Butler had no option but to deliberately knock on. No communication from Connacht Rugby players out wide to call colleagues over. Twelvetrees duly converted the penalty. 28-33. Game over.

Given the manner in which Gloucester Rugby started proceedings, this is a devastating result for Connacht Rugby. Players failed to deliver, players caved in with the pressure of playoff rugby. It is a surprise given the experience in the ranks. The team defensively were put to the sword, coaching ticket needs to reflect. For all the attacking worth, their defensive on the outside was the like the parting of the Red Sea.

Kieran Keane deserves another season at least to implement his game plan but the defensive side of the ball has being an issue throughout his first season in charge. I remain intrigued to see how the side evolve next season; the talent is there but the naivety has to stop, the hard nosed defensive work of Connacht two seasons ago is a distant memory. Pride in the defensive side of the game is required for this side to proceed.

The officiating in Galway left plenty to be desired. Poite was extremely lenient to Gloucester Rugby in that opening quarter. Sharples was lucky to stay on the pitch when taking a player out in the air. Ludlow on another day could have seen red for the no arms challenge on Marmion in the second half . The penalty count was way too high in that opening period and a better side would have punished Gloucester Rugby.

For Connacht Rugby, the season is up. It has being a season which has offered much but delivered little. Two outstanding home wins to Munster Rugby and Ulster Rugby the standouts. There have being too many inconsistent / poor performances to mention and the new recruits coming to the club need to hit the ground running to increase the performance levels of the side.