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Connacht young guns delivering on their promise

By Cian Tracey

Published 01/12/2015

Guinness PRO12, Thomond Park, Limerick 28/11/2015
Munster vs Connacht
Connacht's John Muldoon celebrate after the game
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie
Guinness PRO12, Thomond Park, Limerick 28/11/2015 Munster vs Connacht Connacht's John Muldoon celebrate after the game Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie

There is something eminently likeable about what Connacht are building under Pat Lam and it's not just their expansive style.

When the New Zealander arrived two years ago, it would have been easy to tear up the script and start afresh but Lam has fully bought into the Westerners mentality and both the players and the supporters are now beginning to reap the rewards.

Sure, Bundee Aki grabbed the headlines for what was a stunning finish to clinch Connacht's first win in Thomond Park in 29 years but at the core of the famous victory was a group of young players who have come through the province's academy.

In the immediate aftermath of their quite brilliant win, John Muldoon, a player who typifies everything that Connacht rugby is about, neatly summed up the province's current state.

"Someone asked me what's the difference between this year and other years; we have a spine and a nucleus of a Connacht team with a couple of very important imports and fellas from other provinces. More importantly, we have a lot of young fellas able to step into the role," he said.

Of the starting XV, nine players came through or in a couple of cases are still coming up the Connacht system while six of the seven replacements have followed the same path.

Shane Delahunt (hooker) and James Connolly (openside flanker) both started and impressed while Sean O'Brien (No.8), a former captain of the Ireland U20s, came on for his first appearance in the PRO12.

Connacht Eagles have largely struggled in the British and Irish Cup in recent seasons, but they have never deviated from focusing on the 'bigger picture'.

The role that Nigel Carolan has played in allowing Lam to be able to call upon so many talented youngsters cannot be understated either.

Carolan is now also Ireland's U20 coach and has worked wonders with the majority of players who are now starring for Connacht's senior side.

As well as the players who have come through the academy, Craig Ronaldson and Matt Healy have both also proven that the Ulster Bank League remains a hotbed of talent after they starred for Lansdowne before earning professional contracts.

Lam was without seven players last weekend and he will now have to plan without Robbie Henshaw (fractured hand) for the next six weeks as well as Denis Buckley (sprained ankle) and Eoghan Masterson (fractured thumb) for three.

Henshaw's absence would damage any team in the country, perhaps even in Europe based on current form, while Buckley has been outstanding and will hope to be included in Joe Schmidt's training squad after Christmas.

Despite the latest injury setbacks, Connacht will continue to show that their young guns are more than capable

Belfast Telegraph

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