Connacht still searching for some much-needed momentum

Challenge Cup tie against Oyonnax in Geneva the next stop for Kieran Keane’s side

Connacht’s Niky Adeolokun in action during the squad’s training session at the Sportsground. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Connacht’s Niky Adeolokun in action during the squad’s training session at the Sportsground. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

 

Kieran Keane’s first season in charge is not going according to plan as Connacht head to Switzerland for the opening weekend of European competition.

Fullback Tiernan O’Halloran will miss the first Challenge Cup fixture in Geneva with a recurrence of a hip injury, and new signing Eroni Vasiteri is unlikely to be flying into the west of Ireland at all.

Keane says Connacht are still looking for a centre after the Fijian international was handed a nine-week ban for eye-gouging Canberra Vikings hooker Folau Fainga’a in the National Rugby Championship in Australia.

“It’s up in the air, to be frank,” says Keane, “so there’s a lot of phone calls going back and forward, that is the state of the play at the present.”

The inside centre had been due to arrive in Ireland once his paperwork was completed, but his unavailability to play for nine weeks will leave Connacht without his services for a nearly half of his one-year contract.

“We are still looking for a player because we believe we are short in midfield anyway, so we are looking for a quality player to fill the roster.”

So, it is another bit of a “knock back, but chin up,” for Keane, who had been looking to the strong-running Fijian to provide “greater options” in Europe and the Pro 14, alongside Bundee Aki.

Aki, Kieran Marmion, and Finlay Bealham are among the players Keane is monitoring for “minutes played” ahead of Saturday’s first meeting with French side Oyonnax in Geneva.

“Some of our more high-profile players are getting up in minutes, so we will have to manage the squad, and opportunities will arise by natural attrition. Not wholesale changes, tinkering.

“We are not looking too far ahead. We have stuttered our way through the early part of the season, finding out about each other, so we are just trying to get momentum.”

After last weekend’s loss to Ulster, Connacht are looking for only their second win this season in a European competition that the self-confessed rugby fanatic has only watched from New Zealand.

Fundamental mistakes

“It’s new for me to be coming into this competition and for quite a few of the boys. Playing in Geneva is a new situation for us on a soccer pitch, so there’s a whole lot of new aspects to it.

“But things don’t change. We want to keep our nose to the grindstone, and keep improving in what we are doing. We are not too far away from a win, I hope, and I think Oyonnax are in a similar situation, so I don’t think it will be an open, friendly game.

“If you peel back the onion a bit, we made some pretty fundamental mistakes under pressure [against Ulster], and if addressed right, there is no reason why they can’t be fixed.

“She’s a tough old game at the moment, things haven’t gone our way, the bounce of the ball hasn’t gone our way, and some of the calls haven’t gone our way, but that doesn’t mean we put our hands up and say ‘woe is me’. You just on get on with business.”

In addition to O’Halloran, Steve Crosbie, a replacement against Ulster who played with “aplomb and showed some guile” suffered an ankle injury.

Medics have confirmed Jake Heenan will not require an operation on a knee injury but the flanker is expected to be sidelined until December, while wing Niyi Adeolokun is expected to be available for selection next week. Scrumhalf James Mitchell trained with the squad fully this week and is available.

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