For the second time since the New Year, the weather is playing havoc with Connacht’s Magners League campaign.
Having been forced to postpone their game against Leinster just two hours before kick-off on January 2, Connacht were last evening hit with another postponement as the freezing conditions around the country remain relentless.
The Newport Gwent Dragons were due to leave Wales today for tomorrow’s Sportsground game at 6.30pm. However before their departure a decision to postpone was taken based on the pitch’s suitability and on the conditions in which they would have to travel, according to Connacht’s chief executive officer Gerry Kelly.
“The covering we put on last week is, according to all the advice we had taken, workable up to minus four degrees. Unfortunately last week was in excess of that. At 12 noon on Saturday a number of people looked at the pitch and the feeling was that it was playable with a slight crust on top. However the sun went down behind the stand and basically that area started to refreeze so at 2pm it was not safe.”
Since then the branch has been seeking alternative ways to thaw the ground, including using extra heaters. “We were looking at ways to blow heat under another cover . We have been talking to clubs in the UK – Northampton had problems like this – and we are trying to locate suitable hardware.” Another option was finding an alternative pitch with Buccaneers in Athlone the number one option.
“Amazingly Buccaneers have not had as heavy frosts as here in the west which is most unusual. However the pitch was unplayable earlier in the week and with all four provinces at home, finding an alternative was difficult.” The refixed Leinster fixture is now likely to take place during the Six Nations, says Kelly and a date will be fixed for Dragons game in the coming weeks,. “We do apologise to everyone. The Christmas fixtures are our biggest of the season and our policy on tickets is that they will be valid for the game when it is refixed.
“It now looks likely to be one of the international weekends and the problem is that the A competition cuts across it. However we would hope the Magners would take priority and the two teams are trying to agree a date before it goes back to the Magners to decide.” “We have never postponed a game here and I am told by John Holland (former groundsman ) that not since 1963 have we had a freeze like this before.”
Meanwhile Connacht continued their preparations in the expectation the match would proceed and coach Michael Bradley is hoping his side will turn the corner in 2010 by injecting some much needed consistency into their Magners League campaign. Connacht’s poor away form , in contrast to their strong home record, is costing the province dearly as they continue to prop up the league table, but Bradley believes the wins will come.
“We know that if we manage to do what we can do well, have done at home, and have done in the Amlin, we will get the wins. It is up to ourselves really and we are not consistent enough. We are very conscious of it. We have to be better in the Magners and we can’t use the Amlin as an excuse for not being better. We are becoming annoyed and disappointed, but we are not worried about it.”
Disappointing also is the havoc caused by the weather in what had promised to be a bumper holiday season at home with fixtures against Leinster and Dragons before the crucial Amlin European Challenge game against Montpellier. Bradley says the squad’s preparation has not been affected, although more “creative” than usual.
“Ironically players are well rested but they are getting a little anxious for a hit out. Coming into the game it is more a mental thing than physical and just keeping the lads on track is the key.” Bradley had hoped to use both the Leinster and Dragons fixtures to tweak his side ahead of the European clash with Montpellier. Some had their chances against Munster in what was another poor away performance, but Bradley is expected to name his strongest possible side in a bid to rebuild the momentum after their back-to-back Worcester victories.
“The Leinster match was a sequence of games that allowed us to select on the basis of players making their case for selection in the Amlin. Now the Dragons was a big match and we wanted to keep that record going, put pressure on them and we will see how the lads perform in that.” He was confident of a win if Connacht could “hold into the ball, play more rugby, and get more fast go-forward ball”. “It has worked as a template well against them in the past. When we played them earlier we kicked too much ball away , so we will be looking to kick less, carry the game to the Dragons which also allows the supporters to get involved.” Connacht also need to play it “smart” as Munster did in Thomond Park on St Stephen’s Day.