Played 15, Won 9, Drawn 1, Lost 5 [sixth in Pro12, second in Challenge Cup Pool 2].
The win over Leinster in round three of the Pro12 campaign sticks in the memory. Not only was it an excellent standalone performance, but the victory in Galway also underlined that Connacht’s pre-season words about improvement would be backed up.
Henshaw celebrates a superb win over Leinster in Galway. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
The defensive effort from Pat Lam’s side was extraordinary, as they refused to see their tryline breached despite intense pressure from Leinster in the opening quarter. Kieran Marmion’s stunning try ensured the Sportsground crowd had a memorable evening.
The back-to-back inter-pro defeats to Leinster and Ulster in the last fortnight have been hard to take, perhaps underlining how far Connacht have come. Two difficult away fixtures, but no longer losses that are accepted.
Most hurtful was the narrow defeat in Ravenhill on St. Stephen’s Day, particularly as it was a game that Connacht could have won. A high error count was restrictive, however, and now Lam’s men look to their New Year’s Day clash at home to Munster as the chance to show inter-provincial progress.
Try of the season so far
There have perhaps been better team tries from Connacht this season, but Marmion’s individual effort against Leinster was pure brilliance.
A typical snipe around the left fringe of a ruck 40 metres from the Leinster tryline exposed a disjoint between Ian Madigan and Cian Healy, as Devin Toner trundled back into the defensive line.
Marmion’s acceleration was sharp and then the sidestep of fullback Rob Kearney was sensational. Another marker in the young scrum-half’s progress and something Connacht fans expect to see for Ireland in the coming years.
Player of the season so far
Denis Buckley spent the off-season adding eight kilogrammes of bulk to his frame, and the benefits have been clear. Importantly, the loosehead prop doesn’t appear to have lost any of his longstanding mobility and fitness.
Buckley has been almost ever-present for Lam’s side. Source: James Crombie/INPHO
With 12 starts across both competitions, Buckley is already an important player for the province at the age of 24. He has excelled at scrum time against more renowned props, while his carrying and breakdown work continues to improve.
Joe Schmidt has admitted to having been impressed by the Buccaneers man, meaning international honours could be the next step in his development.
Jack Carty is already a crucial player for Connacht, while the likes of Darragh Leader continue to make strides of progress. Instead of looking at those more established breakthrough talents, we examine the next layer of potential in Connacht’s squad.
Caolin Blade has the best name in Irish rugby, and judging by his first three appearances for Connacht, he has the ability to go with it. Two tries and a generally excellent 80-minute performance against Bayonne this month underlined the scrum-half’s potential.