Training this morning at Connacht HQ was certainly characterised by good spirits. When the sun is shining in the West of Ireland there is always cause for celebration and the players certainly fed off the good vibes as laughter rang out throughout the training paddock.
Of course, this is a fresh start of sorts for Connacht Rugby, Kieran Keane has taken over from Pat Lam as the former Auckland Blues coach departed for Bristol. Keane hasn’t had much time to spend with the squad thus far, only getting hands-on involvement in training over the last few weeks due to the Chiefs’ progression to the Super Rugby semi-finals.
And although spirits were high in training today, don’t assume that the players are in any way complacent, Keane is a stern operator and comes across as someone who has a clear goal in mind. Winning.
“We’ve had some ups and down [training thus far] but things were really good today for example. It’s all positive so far,” Keane told the media at today’s press conference
— Seán McMahon (@Sean_McMahon89) August 15, 2017
The ups and downs to which Keane refers to are to be expected, there are always going to be some teething in problems when new philosophies, new ideas and new game plans are implemented. However, speaking to some of the senior players today, you get a real sense that everyone is on the same page and are determined to right the wrongs of last season.
There has been much speculation regarding the style of rugby which Connacht will implement in Keane’s tenure and the 63-year-old coach gave a brief inkling to what the Connacht supporters can expect at the Sportsground this season.
“I think it will be an enjoyable game [style of rugby] from the players’ perspective and I think the supporters will enjoy it too. It’s horses for courses, so there’s no point in saying we’re going to do this and that. We’ll have a horses for courses mentality.”
There was much more to Lam’s philosophy than ‘run it from everywhere’ but nonetheless there was a clear emphasis on running with the ball in hand, regardless of the team’s position on the field. However, you get the sense with Keane that Connacht will be a bit more pragmatic in their approach this season, and will be more flexible in terms of the style of play they will implement, based on the circumstances.
“We [board, staff, players] share the same ideas of how to play the game, where the action is, what’s enjoyable about the game. We’re not just there to entertain, winners are winners aren’t they? That’s why we’re paid to play the game and that’s what we’re paid to do so while winning won’t be everything, it will be a big focal point for us.”
When pressed on whether Keane has any particular targets for his squad this season in terms of league position or performances in Europe, the former Chiefs coach refused to get drawn on specific goals but ultimately, he wants his team to play to their full potential and show character throughout the season.
“I think having a happy camp, having a really good squad, playing to our potential. Being the best that we can possibly be. I’ve already seen the character in the team and I’m really happy with that and I’ve got no fear that we’ll be an easy walkover for anybody.
Connacht will play a behind closed door friendly with Munster this Friday before travelling to Coventry next week to take on Wasps and then returning to Galway for a last hit-out against Lam’s Bristol.
A tough pre-season which should have them battle-hardened for the exciting season ahead, expect this team to be a lot more difficult to beat than last year.
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