Following on from Neil’s post I have had a look at Connacht, a team I curse as much as admire. As a Leinster fan, Connacht has caused me despair and ruined a couple of good weekends in Galway over the years.
Start of Season Expectations: There would have been an air of optimism going in to the 2012/13 season. While the 2011/2012 Rabo Pro 12 season could not be judged as a success with Connacht finishing in 8th, when you consider the pressures and realities of the league it would have represented progress. The Heineken Cup 2011/12 was a welcome distraction and chance to ruffle some aristocratic feathers. Realistically no group would be favourable however Toulouse and an up and coming Harleguins side would have proved a challenge for most. With 5 defeats, the European adventure was a tough lesson but ended on a high with a memorable 9-8 victory against Quins.
So what for 2012/13? Bouyed by a greater sense of belief and blooded in Europe, Connacht would have realistically wanted to finish the Rabo Pro 12 season in mid table and pick up a few victories in the Heineken Cup.
Overall Form: The season got off to a mixed start and was marked by a lack of consistency that carried through until the end of the season. On a number of occasions Connacht came close but were found wanting at the end, the 24-23 loss to Edinburgh at home in December and four point defeat to Munster being two examples. Overall the 2012/13 Rabo Pro 12 season was a marginal improvement, finishing with one more point (38) then the previous season and again in eighth. The season ended with an overall improvement in points defecit (-64) compared to -112 the season before, scoring more and conceding less however it is unlikely many Connacht fans will find solace in those stats.
Eager to kick on from the previous season in Europe and with a more favourable group which again featured Harleguins but also Zebre, Connacht would have been hopeful. With two solid if not slightly laboured victories against Zebre, they had a memorable 22-14 victory against Biarritz. Finishing in third on 12 points, the province put in a solid performance.
Highlights: Two games in particular stand out. The first being the tonking they gave Leinster (34-6) in the Sportsground in September. Dan Parks’ debut, in which he showed the benefit of his experience, ended in a bonus point victory after committed displays all over the park. Hat tip to Dave McSharry, Fetu’u Vainikolo and Tiernan O’Halloran, three of the four try scorers.
The second game worth mentioning is the inspirational performance against Biaritz which they won 22-14. Leading 10-9 at half time Parks steered the game home with a performance built on solid commitment from one to fifteen. Young Robbie Henshaw played phenomenal and again O’Halloran and McSharry were two of the key performers on the night. Yachvili missing the conversion at the end which would have guaranteed Biarritz a losing bonus point was also satisfying. On the Heineken Cup, it’s also worth mentioning the fly on the wall documentary ‘The West’s Awake’ which tells the story of Connacht Rugby’s inaugural Heineken Cup journey in the 2011/2012 season and aired in December 2012. An excellent documentary it is a must for any rugby fan.
Mentioned above, the emergence of some exciting talent such as Henshaw and McSharry must also be highlighted.
Lowlights: In a mixed season there were a few, losing in the Heineken Cup to Quins back to back and being tonked in the second game by 39 points would have stung. The previously mentioned defeats to Munster and Edinburgh must also be highlighted.
Scorelines aside, the confirmed departure of Eric Elwood, retirement of Johnny O’Concrete and Adrian Flavin, and lose of Mike McCarthy to Leinster will be viewed as disappointing. Elwood had nothing left to give and did a fine job while Father Time caught up with O’Connor and Flavin, Connacht fans will sad to see them leave. McCarthy’s departure might be viewed by some as slightly worrying, big performances draw headlines and the attention of bigger sides.
Final Verdict – Success or Failure?: They say “progress is progress” and overall it is hard to argue when it comes to Connacht in 2012/13. They improved marginally in the Rabo Pro 12 and put in a solid European performance however I think many fans would have hoped for a greater return based on some heroic performances and raw talent. Success, just about.
Any comments etc. feel free to connect on Twitter on @dbkinch or via the comments section below.