Pat Lam's team are looking to live up to last year's winning campaign
The Pro 12 begins this weekend, as all four Irish provinces look to match Connacht's feat from last season in winning the title.
Pat Lam's side go into the season, looking to match the magic of last May, when a second-placed finish in the league table was followed by a Pro12 Final win. Can they match that performance this season?
A second-place finish in the league table, Connacht were deserving winners of the Pro12 defeating Leinster in the Final in Edinburgh. With 15 wins and seven losses, Pat Lam’s side had their best-ever regular season performance, before going on to win the Edinburgh final.
Pat Lam’s side were the busiest of the Irish sides this summer adding seven new players to the squad. South African fly-half Marnitz Boshoff is the most high-profile signing replacing the Sale-bound AJ MacGinty. The arrival of Cian Kelleher from Leinster could also prove to be an inspired signing. Former Ulster lock Lewis Stevenson will add experience to the pack.
Bundee Aki personified all that was good about Connacht last season. The sheer physicality of the New Zealand-born star was complemented with pace and skill. Aki was named the Pro12 Player of the Season in May for helping Connacht win their maiden title. Despite the lack of playing time with Rob Henshaw last season, Aki performed will with the now-Leinster player when on the field together. How Aki reacts to like without his centre-partner remains to be seen.
Aki remains a potential future Ireland international. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie
The magic of last season will be hard matched for Pat Lam’s side. A return to the play-offs will be a priority for the team though. Last season, Connacht were the perennial underdogs, punching above their weight. This year, as champions, they will have a bullseye on their backs.
Cian Kelleher could be about to become the player Leinster feared he may, when he moved to Connacht. The fullback was highly coveted by the RDS hierarchy and may thrive under Pat Lam’s tutelage. Leinster’s loss could very well be Connacht’s gain.
7/10/16: Ulster (H)
29/10/16: Leinster (A)
23/12/16: Ulster (A)
31/12/16: Munster (H)
14/4/17: Leinster (H)
6/5/17: Munster (A)