This weeks statscast focusses on the squad changes for the new season by comparing the clear-out stats from this season to what has happened in the last few seasons, as well as talking about the new signings that Connacht have made and promoted from the Academy.
As we talked about last week, 12 players were let go by Connacht as the new contract deadline approached. This seems like a pretty big clear-out, however the average clear-out of players at the end of the season over the last 6 seasons is 11.6, so not much change there, then.
Also, when compared to Munster who clear-out an average of 9.4 per season and Ulster at 10.4, Connacht don't fare too badly. When you consider that due to not have the same sort of financial muscle as their provincial cousins, the western province have to be more creative in giving players a chance who, for whatever reason, were let go by their previous clubs and are therefore not guaranteed long term solutions to Connacht's needs.
So far, Connacht have added 10 players to the senior squad for the new season (6 from the Academy), below the average of 11.7 added over the last 7 years. However, that figure is higher than Munster who have signed 9 (5 Academy), Ulster only 3 (1 Academy) and so far Leinster have not signed anyone so far for the new season.
It is not to say that Connacht don't have needs, and that they won't miss a lot of the players that left, but it is not a shock mass clear-out that some fans on social media have been worrying about.
The New Recruits
The new Connacht recruits for 2020/21 are an interesting bunch of former Ireland U20s stars with an average age of only 22.8 and with varying levels of experience at the professional level of the game:
Arnold has 47 PRO14 appearances and 11 EPCR matches for Ulster and Munster as well as gaining 1 Irish cap, in November 2018. That is plenty of experience from a thoroughly determined character who left home at the age of 19 to join Ulster because Harlequins wouldn't pick him at centre.
Oliver has played 27 matches in PRO14, scoring 4 tries for Munster. If he can overcome some injury issues and replicate his form in his first season for Munster where he averaged 3.3 metres per carry, he could be an excellent replacement for the departing Colby Fainga'a.
Dowling started 1 of his 6 PRO14 appearances for Leinster over the last two seasons. Another huge talent from the St. Michaels College production line of fine forwards who is obviously looking for more game time.
Aungier has played in 5 PRO14 matches off the bench for Leinster last season, mostly during international windows. He is an exciting prospect at prop, whose rampaging style around the park is reminiscent of a young Cian Healy. Interestingly, Healy and Aungier played AIL rugby for Clontarf.
The Academy promotions
A huge positive that comes from losing that amount of players, is that it opens doors for the academy players to step up and show their worth.
This season Connacht promoted 6 players, the most in at least 7 seasons, and will hope that they match the quality of the 5 promoted players from last season, with the likes of Paul Boyle practically becoming first choice in the back row and Conor Fitzgerald pushing Jack Carty hard for the out-half slot.
Murray has made 5 appearances, including 2 starts already for Connacht. He is a massive talent who didn't look out of place playing with the senior squad last season, especially in the heavy defeat in the RDS where Murray was the top tackler with 28, while also making 11 carries.
Dean's only senior appearance was a very composed display against Munster in April 2019, when he played the full 80 minutes. Andy Friend likes the variance in skillset that he brings to the out-half position.
The younger Masterson has 2 bench appearances for Connacht, replacing his brother on one of those occasions. He is a tough tackling, hard running, versatile back rower who can play at 6,7, or 8, something he did with great success for the Eagles last season.
The Ballinasloe native scrum-half has an abundance of talent, and scored the try that sealed Ireland U20s Grand Slam in 2019.
The prop, originally from Kildare, was making huge strides towards the senior squad last season before rupturing his ACL on the Eagles trip to Boston.
The former Lansdowne winger, who scored 3 tries in his last 4 matches for the Eagles last season, also broke Landsdowne's single season try scoring record in 2019, edging out the former holder, Matt Healy, by 1 try with 15.
Young squad again
The fact that so many Academy players have come up to the senior squad this season and last season, as well as they youthfulness of this season's new signings, sees the average age of the squad drop from 26.7 down to 25.3. The last time a Connacht squad had that age profile they won the Championship, the average age that season was 25.1.