With the return of the Pro12 comes the return of the Opposition View and this time the chaps from the Craggy Rugby Podcast are sharing their thoughts on Connacht, our reigning league champions.
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How would you sum up your 2015/16 season overall?
W 15 L 7 PF 507 PA 406 TF 60 TA 46 TBP 8 LBP 5
Connacht finished 2nd in the Pro12, before beating Leinster in the Final
It couldn’t have been better. It was the greatest ever season in the history of Connacht rugby, it had plenty of hardened Connacht followers in tears more than once, beating Munster home and away, beating the previous season’s champions back to back, and beating Leinster twice at the business end of the season being the most memorable.
Are you pleased with your new signings?
Eoin Griffin (London Irish), Conor Carey (Nottingham), Marnitz Boshoff (Lions), Cian Kelleher (Leinster), Dominic Robertson-McCoy (Northland), Josh Rowland (Ireland 7s), Lewis Stevenson (Exeter Chiefs), Stacey Ili (Auckland), James Cannon (Wasps), Ivan Soroka (Clontarf), Naulia Dawai (Otago)
The new signings have a lot to live up to in replacing the likes of Aly Muldowney, Nathan White and Robbie Henshaw, and it is taking them a bit of time to bed into the Connacht system. Stacey Ili is the one who has made the biggest impact with his hat-trick against Zebre in the Champions Cup, and Conor Carey is proving to be a very solid prop. It will probably take another few games to judge the rest of the guys in a fair light.
Where would you say your team’s strengths and weakness lie?
Connacht’s greatest strength is the handling skill set they have right across the squad. It makes them a dangerous proposition from any position on the field. When the first choice front five are available, the scrum can be very destructive. The back three have searing pace matched with a hunger for the ball which means they score a lot of tries.
The lineout is a problem this season, but the biggest weakness is the lack of depth in the squad. There are a lot of young, exciting players coming through the system, but with Ireland taking our 5 best players combined with departures and retirement of some key players from last season, the callowness of the squad has been shown up at times this season.
How do you rate your coach?
Former Samoan international Pat Lam is into his fourth season as Connacht coach
Top notch. He brings a brilliant vision of how the game should be played, and how to build a successful organisation that is based on a combination of intelligence, hard work and an unshakeable belief in knowing what it takes to be a champion.
Who do you see as your star player?
Bundee Aki. His hunger and passion for the game are matched by his incredible skill set, durability and hugely infectious personality that permeates throughout the team when he is playing well.
How has this season gone so far?
A total rollercoaster of emotions. A diabolical start losing four matches on the bounce, as if to let the newer fanbase know what it was like to follow Connacht in the old days, then a rapid ascent to the glories of last season with victories over a then unbeaten Ulster followed by a glorious win over Toulouse. Only to come back down to earth with a bump losing away to an understrength Leinster and then the Dragons.
What is the aim for this season?
Top six in the Pro12 and to qualify for the quarter finals of the Champions Cup, both of which are currently still attainable.
Prediction for our game?
Connacht’s record against Cardiff is dreadful, W6 D2 L19 since the start of the Celtic League. In the last 6 home games it reads W1 D1 L4, although the draw and win were the last 2 matches. We have a raft of players coming back from injury but have 5 missing with Ireland, while Cardiff a number of players in the Welsh squad making this a particularly difficult game to call.
However, the fact that this is Connacht’s first game back in the Sportground since beating Toulouse, and the fact that the weather forecast is excellent for running rugby, Connacht should have a slight edge in a game that will probably see a lot of open rugby with lots of tries, Connacht by three.
Thanks again to the Craggy Rugby Podcast fellas for providing the answers, should be an exciting game on Friday night in Galway. Here’s to a Cardiff win though!