By Linley Mackenzie (this article first appeared in the Galway Advertiser)
It does not get any easier for Kieran Keane’s Connacht as they head to the home of the Guinness PRO14 champions Scarlets.
The Connacht coach, obviously unhappy with their 17-15 loss to Cardiff at the Sportsground, says it is time to move on now the review is complete.
“We haven’t been able to lament anything, we are not feeling sorry for ourselves, we are just moving on,” he says.
“Wins are great, but you generally get what you deserve in this professional sporting world, and we are getting there. We will make a statement sooner or later.”
Keane faces another Kiwi coach, Wayne Pivac, who led the Scarlets to championship victory over Munster last season, 12 years after they won the inaugural title. They are also in scoring form this season, having racked up big wins over Southern Kings, Zebre and Edinburgh last weekend, with only Ulster’s 27-20 halting their clean sweep.
Their pedigree is matched by this season’s statistics – in nine categories, the Scarlets lead three (line-out success 95 per cent, turnovers won 41, offloads 72 (Connacht 48 ), and they appear in eight. Both Connacht and Scarlets have similar tackle success, 90 per cent and 89 per cent respectively, while Connacht, with seven line-out steals, are also second highest in that category.
“Scarlets are expansive, very well skilled, and a well drilled team,” says Keane.” We are going over to beat them obviously. We have put in place a plan that we think could trouble them, but they are a quality side, and obviously champions – you don’t become champions for nothing.
“Decision making has really been focal point for us. We have hard workers, we have good players and we have structures they are coming to grips with that will create opportunities, which we haven’t been able to exploit yet. So it’s about putting a little bit of polish on the rough diamond which is what we are looking to achieve.
Some good news is the likely return of Tiernan O’Halloran at fullback after suffering a hip injury against the Dragons, but it is a week or so too early for fellow Pro 12 winners Matt Healy, who returns to training next week, and Niyi Adeolokun “in the coming weeks”, while in the pack James Cannon has a minor thigh strain, and Naulia Dawai is getting close to a return to the training paddock, while lock Andrew Browne remains sidelined with his Achilles issue.
The injuries have obviously affected Keane’s ability to include key players this season.
“I’m not going down the avenue of selecting a first XV because it is a long arduous season. It is more about minutes, monitoring people daily, weekly, and monitoring form, GPS, training, mistakes that possibly creeping in, energy levels, etc, so definitely not in the position where we have a top 15.”
It has been a tough baptism for Keane with Connacht now having lost three of their four opening games, the latest against Cardiff at the Sportsground last Saturday.