Connacht had still to announce the departure of head coach Kieran Keane just one year into a three-year contract last night, but a statement confirming as much in the next day or two is expected pending the conclusion of negotiations between the two parties.
It is understood that results alone were not the sole reason matters came to a head after Connacht’s season ended with a 47-10 win over Leinster at the Sportsground last Saturday, although it didn’t help Keane’s position that the province finished only three points above last-placed Zebre in Conference A.
Following on from last season’s difficulties in their attempted retention of the Guinness Pro12 title, when they finished eighth, Connacht won nine and lost 13 of 22 games, whereas this season in 21 games they won only seven and lost 14.
They also qualified from their pool in the European Challenge Cup before losing at home in the quarter-finals to Gloucester. But while there were improvements in their tallies of tries scored and conceded, this decision was clearly based on more than mere results.
While his predecessor, Pat Lam, could also be a hard taskmaster, his engaging approach still ensured a degree of loyalty amongst the squad whereas it is understood Keane's man management style left some players disgruntled.
Furthermore, Keane was seemingly not as engaging with the support staff, community and support base as Lam had been, or indeed Eric Elwood before him. Both Elwood and Lam headed unified, almost familial organisations, as much through their work off the field as on the training ground or come match days.
Aside from improved results, and notably the remarkable Pro12 success of 2015-16, this contributed to a vast increase in Connacht’s support base. Even previously non-affiliated supporters were made to feel that Connacht represented their province and the west of Ireland like never before. It is very much what Connacht are about and after their season just gone, they apparently saw that being at more of a risk.
Aside from making this decision reluctantly, all the evidence suggests the Connacht hierarchy only came to the view that another change was required in the light of the team's rousing send-off for their departing captain John Muldoon, Andrew Browne and others in front of an 8,000-plus capacity last Saturday.
Certainly Keane himself gave every impression in the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s game that he would be around next season.
Asked whether the 47-10 win was in any way bittersweet, he said: “No, you can’t look at it that way. A lot of people may do but life goes on. We learned some pretty tough lessons and we had to learn them too. Probably from my perspective bittersweet might be a little bit more accurate. But as far as the players are concerned as a team, we needed to learn those lessons if we are going to really be the quality team that we aspire to be. Growing pains.”
He also asserted: “This year, we’re going to have a big review and sit down. I think there was a little bit of lip-service paid to it last year, mainly because of coaches going and different personnel coming in. We’re going to have a very robust review about everything.
“In terms of coaching, in terms of the way we play, the players are going to get an opportunity to have one on ones and [talk about the] way forward. We’re going to do it right. Because if we don’t we’ll get caught with our pants down again at the beginning of next season. We don’t want to do that.”
Seemingly however, that player-driven performance only highlighted the inconsistencies over the course of the season, and led the Connacht hierarchy to wonder what might be achieved with a unified, all-for-one sense of purpose on a more regular basis.