Saturday 1 October 2016

Believe me, this side can win trophies

Play-off charge is on after latest win over Ospreys - but job is far from over

Johnny O'Connor

Published 04/03/2016 | 02:30

Connacht's Aly Muldowney is tackled by Olly Cracknell. Photo: Sportsfile
Connacht's Aly Muldowney is tackled by Olly Cracknell. Photo: Sportsfile

It's time to start getting really excited about this Connacht side - the job isn't done yet but they're well on the way to an unprecedented season.

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The play-offs are a definite possibility after last weekend's brilliant win over Ospreys, and if they can shore up a slightly leaky defence, they could go all the way in the Pro12 or the Challenge Cup, or even both.

The victory at the Sportsground in Round 16 was born out of pure power of will and determination. The guys went out there to do a job, and had the clarity to get two tries early, and another when the game was in the balance.

Again towards the end of the game Connacht's resolve was tested, but they came out of that with their heads held high. They seem to be able to close out games with a different mindset this season and that's stood to them.

There's a confidence about how they shut out teams, and although they were lucky to get a slightly fortunate call when Sam Davies seemed to touch the ball down in the corner legitimately, they earned that bit of luck.

Plenty of times Connacht have been pulled up by dodgy refereeing decisions, and it's nice to see a couple go in their favour this season. That can often be the difference between being in the play-offs and not even qualifying for the Champions Cup, and Connacht were on the right side of it on Saturday.

The worrying aspect emanating from the game was the concession of tries again - we saw in Italy where a poor Zebre side notched a bonus point in that massive win for Connacht and Ospreys were very close to getting four tries themselves.

They seem to be sloppy errors most of the time too, so that's something that really needs to be looked at if Connacht want to find the final piece of the puzzle. It would make them genuine title contenders, because we know what they can do in attack.

The other disappointing area of their game at the moment is the restarts; they can't get them right for some reason or another. Ospreys scored off at least three restarts in the Sportsground last weekend.

Stunning

I don't think it's a case of the team falling asleep; it's just execution is off at that moment, and they won't win silverware if they can't get those simple areas right. But then again it's just nit-picking when they are consistently banging in tries at the other end.

Matt Healy is to the forefront of everyone's minds again this week after his stunning effort. That was some try, the way he bounced the tackler, pirouetted and then showed Rhys Webb a clean pair of heels, it was pure class.

The guy has got gas, and that is something that is missing from the Irish side at the moment. There are other areas of his game that he could improve on, but he will only learn that from operating within the national set-up. Hopefully he gets the call in the coming months.

He's not the only Connacht who deserves to be given their chance, but as a whole this season has been all about the team effort, and not individuals.

We saw the impact that Ultan Dillane made against England last weekend. That's the mindset that is in these Connacht players, they have been given the opportunity to express themselves, and all the way from one to 15, and 23, they are not afraid to run the ball whenever they get the chance.

Rodney Ah You looked more like a centre at times against Ospreys when he was taking the ball into contact and adding a sidestep to keep the opposition guessing. It's something that Pat Lam has brought into this set-up and no other Irish team is doing it at the moment.

Bundee Aki is the general on the field from that point of view. He is joint top of the appearance charts in the Pro12 and has really added that X-factor with the likes of Robbie Henshaw injured or away on international duty.

It will be interesting to see how the lads respond on an international-standard pitch this evening against Edinburgh. It should suit their style perfectly.

Edinburgh will look to keep it tight, but if there are gaps to be exploited Connacht will, and we could be in for another try-fest.

Irish Independent

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