For Connacht, this season is about building on the foundations coach Andy Friend has laid since taking over the team in 2018. It has been a barren few years for the team following their breakthrough pro 14 title win in 2016. Last season’s finish of second in their group was their best in the last five years. This relative success was emphasized by the inclusion of Gavin Thornbury, Jack Carty, and Alex Wotton on the pro 14 team of the year.
While Covid-19 did play a part in the outcome of last season and teams were able to keep the virus out of their camps with it to different degrees of success. The final was still between Leinster and Munster so it was not a season you could write off by any means. Connacht still had a good year and only the covid enforced smaller playoffs stopped them from progressing from their pool. The post-season rainbow cup results are something that could be taken with a pinch of salt and won’t have much impact on how any of the teams do this season.
On the transfer front, the only major departure was the loss of long-time lock Quinn Roux to Toulon. Coming into the club was the returning Alex Wotton from Munster, Tongan second-row Leva Fifita as well as Ireland Under 20 prop Sam Illo from the Leinster academy. This team has been strengthened in the offseason and have kept a hold of the players that looked to be on an upward trajectory.
Albeit, this preseason did not look great for Connacht as they had losses against Worcester Warriors and London Irish 53-39, 47-14 respectively. While it is preseason, and the results don’t ultimately matter, it can be an indication of where potential problems lie. These games still indicate the same defensive fragilities that haunted Connacht last seasons and relegated them to the concession of the second most points in their pool.
We will know more about this team after the opening game of the season against Cardiff Blues who finished last season in a similar vein to Connacht with an identical record. This opener in Cardiff could indicate if this team is showing the same upward trajectory it showed over the last season. Last year these teams won one game against each other last season with resounding wins for each team.
It can be a difficult task to try and predict what the season will look like for the team after only a couple of preseason games, but the off-season signings looked good and the squad has remained largely the same from last year so a finish in the play-off spots, but no further would show an improved year for this Connacht outfit.