Tuesday 26 September 2017

Anything can happen in knock-out rugby

Defensive improvement can see Connacht bounce back

John Muldoon lifts the Pro 12 trophy after victory in last year’s final, however this season has not been as successful Picture: Sportsfile
John Muldoon lifts the Pro 12 trophy after victory in last year’s final, however this season has not been as successful Picture: Sportsfile

Johnny O'Connor

Connacht will be devastated to have been opened up like that against Munster last weekend. But it's important that the fans get behind them, as they have a huge game coming up against either Northampton or Gloucester and they have to park that disappointment.

They know that level won't get them across the line against the English Premiership side. But with knock-out rugby anything can happen and this group of players can definitely pull something out of the bag, I have no doubt about that.

It was a bad way to finish the regular Guinness Pro12 season; they can't be happy with that, especially with the drop off from last season. Connacht beat Munster at home and away for the first time in the league in 2015-16, but that's all in the past now. Connacht have regressed in terms of their final position, but sometimes that can happen after a big win.

Variation

People say that the southern hemisphere teams don't kick the ball. But watch Super Rugby at the moment and you will find they do kick a lot of ball, but they kick it accurately and that's the crucial difference. At the moment Connacht could do with a bit of variation in their kicking game.

It's difficult but despite the disappointment of getting hockeyed by 50 points, the fans need to get in behind the team and help them get through what will be a very difficult game in Franklin's Gardens or Kingsholm.

Read More: Now is the time for fans to keep faith

You are always on edge as a professional athlete. Even when things are going well, the absolute fear of failure is the thing that constantly drives these players towards wanting to succeed. It's not a mental fragility, and it's not something that the players can't get over, but you have to acknowledge that it's there.

Psychologically as a group I feel they have enough resolve to pull through and produce a huge performance. They need to be objective in their approach. The defeats hurt and situations like this are never ideal in sport.

If the players can just drag two more big performances out, they can overturn their English opposition and then come back to the Sportsground and win a play-off final in front of a partisan home following.

They always talk about their processes and how they can stick to a structure. Hopefully the team can revert back to that now. In a panic any player can force something, which isn't the way to play your rugby, but away from home that can often release the shackles and that could be the best possible thing about the next two weeks.

The lads certainly have something to play for now. It was hard to go to Thomond Park and lose like that, but they will get over it.

Everyone knew that match mattered little in the wider scheme of things, and maybe the players went there with that in their subconscious.

Defensively Connacht need to be on it in this game. But it's not the case that these guys don't know where they are weak. They do know this and they will look to make the changes before they travel to England in a couple of weeks.

They need a big defensive performance in knock-out rugby; if they can close down the opposition it will lay the platform for victory. Because everyone knows how good this Connacht team are in attack.

They are probably up there with the best in the Pro12 on their day, and with a fully fit selection Connacht can compete with the very best in Europe.

Options

They are missing a few players going into the play-offs but they still have options and I've no doubt that they can bring a play-off final to Galway.

This break comes at a nice time too. The players will be able to freshen up mentally and physically.

It's been a tough few weeks, and it can be hard to deal with the defeats against the likes of Leinster, Scarlets and Munster.

But all along Connacht would have been thinking about this play-off at the back of their minds.

Hopefully they are rested up after their week off and they can attack next week with a renewed optimism ahead of one of the most important games this season.

Irish Independent

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