Connacht’s Andrew Browne welcomes the mix of home and away

Indigenous lock credits influence of outsiders for side’s success

For all the infusion of youth and Kiwi-infused charge to their first ever major final, Connacht retain a core of long-serving indigenous players for whom this has been one hell of a journey.

Amongst them are Andrew Browne, Galway born and bred, and a product of the Connacht academy, who is in his ninth season with his native province and one step away from emulating his brother Damien, who played for both Connacht and Leinster – with whom he won a league title.

All that said and done, Browne is not inclined to beat the drum on behalf of home-grown, indigenous players, and recognises the importance of additions from outside.

"I think it is very important but the lads that come in. I think Bundee Aki has come in and, Jeez, he could become the mayor of Galway pretty soon the way people are loving him. The likes of him and Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham came from Australia originally, they've come in and adopted the Connacht mantra, so to speak. It's very important for that, to identify with the community in Galway, Connacht as a province, and I think it's really worked this year. We're a close-knit side, we do a lot together and I think it pays off on the pitch."


Still, Browne has seen some turnaround under Pat Lam, albeit he also gives Eric Elwood credit for the rejuvenation in explaining why they adopted the new man's ideas.


“I think we bought into it pretty quickly. I think the building blocks had been there for a long time and we had been improving for a long time under Eric . . . When Pat came in there there was a few new ideas, but as we were getting better year on year we really embraced that and I think that has really paid dividends now.”

And most impressively, they’ve stuck with it, regardless of mistakes.

“It’s actually not that difficult,” Browne maintains. “I think Pat always thinks about the process and believing in what we are doing. The fact that we have seen that it does work, we have played really well, have scored some great tries this year and I think if we stick to that we know it can work. We never really doubt it. Obviously it might go wrong at some stage, but we always get back into our systems again and we start fresh . . .”

Another huge contributory factor, in a season where they have used 46 players, has been Connacht’s new-found reserves in personnel, which has seen them dip into their Academy (eight of whom have been blooded in the senior team this year).

"Even a few years ago, if a key player went down in one position, you wouldn't really have anyone to come in and replace him," admits Browne. "Now, young fellas have come into the centre, the likes of Rory Parata and Peter Robb, any time Bundee or Rob have been away and have done extremely well this season. I think it's just the growth in every position around the place has been quality."

Rapidly improving

No area of the team better illustrates this strength in depth than Browne's own, namely the secondrow, where the form of the rapidly improving Ultan Dillane and the hugely influential ball-winner cum playmaker Aly Muldowney, has made even making the bench – as Browne did ahead of Quinn Roux for the semi-finals – an achievement in itself.

“You know, when Ultan first came in I thought he was a bit, you know, Ultan, he’s real tall. He’s all right angles; he was injuring me every week in training but the growth that he’s shown has been incredible. He’s a fantastic athlete, he’s as tough as nails and he’s done really well this year.”

"And then when you talk about competitiveness in the secondrow, Aly's done extremely well this year, leading the lineout, being a leader around the pitch. Quinn Roux is there as well, Ben Marshall has unfortunately has his season disrupted by injury and Danny Qualter is there as well."

“So you have six quality second rows who are all pushing each other and I think that pays off on the pitch at game time.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times