By Linley Mackenzie
(this article first appeared in the Galway Advertiser)
Stung by defeat to Zebre, Connacht now look to improve the “mindset” when they head away for a 10 day tour that includes another Italian challenge and a first visit to South Africa.
Both are formidable opponents. Benetton Treviso on Saturday (1pm ) are on a roll – eight wins from seven is their best record in the competition at this stage of the season. And then to the Cheetahs at home on the Highveld where it can take three weeks to acclimatise to the 1,400 metre altitude. To date Glasgow are the only PRO14 side to win at Toyota Park.
Thus Connacht do have their “backs to the wall”, says Kieran Keane after last week’s disappointing 11-19 defeat to Michael Bradley’s Zebre. And while the Connacht coach, after the weekly review, believes his squad were not as poor as he first thought because the “opposition were really good”, they will need to play with a different attitude.
“We were a little bit muddled, and it was an arm wrestle more than anything, and in that we got second,” he says.
“We will probably need to be a different team with probably the same players, but a different mindset. It will be what is in our heads.
“We were in a good physical space, but we let ourselves down a little bit mentally, and the players have talked about the fact they were sort of looking for someone else or something to spark them. It has dented our PRO14 aspirations, and other results did not help us. I don’t think it could be fatal, but it could be after the next two matches.”
Connacht remain in fifth place in Conference A table, with Cardiff’s win over Munster having moved the Welsh outfit five points clear. Now Connacht face a confident Treviso who have improved considerably under fellow Kiwi Kieran Crowley.
“I suspect Michael Bradley and Kieran Crowley have collaborated already, and we can expect exactly what we got from Zebre. I think there is little between the two teams. They are different in certain aspects, but they play to the strengths, and I think it will be a really torrid affair.
” Treviso are enjoying a really good run, playing with a lot of confidence as well, and they are at home. They will be a hell of team to overcome.”
O’Halloran a late call
Keane has some good news with prop Denis Buckley available after ankle surgery, while Ireland lock Ultan Dillane will be available for this Italian fixture having returned to the squad following the untimely death of his mother Ellen. Fellow internationls Bundee Aki, Kieran Marmion, and Quinn Roux will not be available, while Tiernan O’Halloran (hamstring ) will be assessed today and will be a “late call”.
Connacht travel from Venice on to South Africa via Dubai on Sunday with the same squad of 25, although there must be some flexibility for extra players to join if needed for injury cover.
“It is a massive challenge, both games are, but it’s really cool,” says Keane. ” We probably have our backs to the wall a little bit, but that might bring out the best in us.”