Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Connacht for top 6 finish?

With Connacht currently occupying 6th position in the Guinness Pro12 table, can they continue their good results over the remainder of the season, and qualify automatically for next years Champions Cup? asks new HoR contributor Ed Burke


Can Connacht finish in the top 6 this year in the Pro12, thereby qualifying automatically for the Chamions Cup next year? Of course they can. Will they? Hard to say, but lets look at some of the stats to help us form an opinion.
  
The Pro12 has only been in existence in its curent format for 4 years, when the Italians came on board. In that time, the team finishing in 6th place on the table, has done so with a final points tally of 55 last year, and 54, 56 and 60 in the previous 3 years. 

Of course you could make an argument that those teams didn't need those points totals to finish 6th, and merely needed more points than the team finishing 7th, but for the purposes of this, we'll assume that those are the levels required, which means Connacht need in and around 55 points to finish 6th. The good news is that they have 27 points already after 10 matches played, and so, are bang on schedule. I do feel though, that acquiring a similar total again, for the 2nd half of the season is going to be difficult. 

They'll need around another 28 points to get to that level, which would comprise of say, another 6 wins and 4  bonus points. So where are they going to get them? Well here are their remaining fixtures:

Ulster A, Munster H, Edinburgh H, Scarlets A, Dragons A, Treviso H, Cardiff A, Munster A, Ulster H, Glasgow H, Zebre A, Ospreys H. 

On current form, you would fancy them strongly against Edinburgh H, Treviso H and Zebre A, with perhaps a bonus point along the way, that will take them to 40 points. So from that position, they would require another 15 points from the following: 

Ulster A, Munster H, Scarlets A, Dragons A, Cardiff A, Munster A, Ulster H, Glasgow H, Ospreys H. 


Its starting to look a little tougher now. Currently sitting in 6th place, they've been fairly consistent in putting away teams placed below them so far this season and they will need that to continue, but firstly they will probably require a win in their next 2 matches, away to Ulster or home to Munster. Obviously for the 4 points, but also to stop the morale deflating impact that losing 3 inter-pro's on the bounce would have. 

2 more wins are required from there, with their best opportunities during the 6 nations with 3 trips to Wales. Scarlets are likely to be hit fairly hard (maybe 5 or 6) by international player withdrawals, with Cardiff less so and Dragons perhaps providing less international players than Connacht at this point. 

That match away to Scarlets, on the 2nd weekend of the 6 nations looks like it could be a particularly significant one, given they are Connacht's closest challengers for 6th spot. Win that, and one of the other 2 and they stay in a good position. Connacht have beaten the Dragons twice in Rodney Parade in the last 4 years, and Cardiff once in Cardiff during that time.  

From there, they would need either a single win, or 3 bonus points from games against Munster A, Ulster H, Glasgow H & Ospreys H although, you are reaching the business end of the season now, and all 4 of these teams will be likely no longer be involved in europe and setting their sights on a top 4 finish and the play-offs. Connacht have only managed to acquire 1 bonus point so far this season, at home to Zebre, so getting 3 in those matches will be difficult. 

So here's the summary of what's required: 
  • 1 win from next 2 matches Ulster A and Munster H 
  • win their 3 "bankers" with 1 bonus point (Edinburgh H, Treviso H & Zebre A) 
  • Pick up 2 wins out of 3 in Wales during the 6 nations (Scarlets, Dragons & Cardiff A) 
  • Pick up 3 or 4 match day points towards end of season games (Munster A, Ulster H, Glasgow H, Ospreys H) 
So what do you think? I suspect that this goal might be a little stretchy this season, and they may fall just short, finishing in a respectable 7th. That would be enough to put them into a play off with the 7th place finishing English side, perhaps a Wasps or Harlequins or someone like that, which would be a tough match. Anyway, heres hoping I'm wrong and they continue their strong form into the new year.


Ed Burke : Armchair fan now, who mostly watches recorded matches on sky+ at x12 speed, due to impatience of little ones. @edserburke 

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