Wednesday 7 December 2016

Big chance for vital win over fragile Blues

International absentees make Welsh outfit ripe for the picking

Published 25/11/2016 | 02:30

Pat Lam has more to choose from than his opponents Cardiff Blues. Photo: Sportsfile
Pat Lam has more to choose from than his opponents Cardiff Blues. Photo: Sportsfile

It's back to the old grind for Connacht Rugby this weekend, and it's a massive game for them against Cardiff Blues in the Sportsground this evening.

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On the international side of things, Australia are the latest opponent for Ireland after last weekend's gruelling defeat to New Zealand. That was a good spectacle, the level of intensity was huge and Ireland weren't far off the All Blacks either.

But when you think about the centre partnership, in terms of Robbie Henshaw going off, Jared Payne didn't have the same impact at all. Henshaw frees up the outside guys and it showed how the opportunities were limited in the Irish midfield.

Garry Ringrose had a great game when he came in; he offers something completely different from the other two guys there. But it was just Henshaw's experience that was missed.

But the new guys did themselves justice, players like Ringrose and Josh van der Flier really imposed themselves on the game. They actually turned out to be the stand-out players.

Jamie Heaslip was superb again. He has found a line-break again these days and he is breaking off tackles, as is Seán O'Brien, who gave a mammoth display for the 80 minutes.

And after the couple of games against the reigning world champions, I don't think Ireland are too far off at the top of world rugby. They will be judged on the Six Nations in 2017, but they are right back up there in the top three or four teams in the world.

With the way Australia are going at the moment, and the way Ireland are playing, it should point towards an Irish victory this weekend.

Ireland played very well against New Zealand it was just the final attacking third that let them down at times, they knocked on the ball and things like that.

Michael Cheika will have his troops well drilled for this game tomorrow, but the Irish team are that bit more consistent and despite the loss at the weekend, they should have enough here.

Strong

Australia need results to go their way, and Ireland will be too strong this time around. It's a game Ireland should be winning. But at the same time they need to respect the threat of the Aussies. It's never plain sailing in rugby, you need to show up physically and be accurate on the day.

Similarly for Connacht, that's what it is going to be about when they take the field in the Sportsground tonight - they have failed in that sense in recent matches but they should be bouncing back now.

Cardiff took off at the start of the season, and it was good to see them doing so well, but that was a long time ago now and they seem to have fallen off a bit.

It's a great time to get them because they have so many players away with Wales on international duty. Obviously Connacht are in the same boat now, which is a nice complaint, but they aren't as depleted ahead of the game.

Connacht have a number of players back from injury this week and that relieves a bit of the burden on the squad and drives up competition within the group.

It's such an important fixture for Connacht to ensure that they pick up the points in the Pro12, with the other teams around them missing more players.

It's a good opportunity for Connacht to kick on a bit and get some crucial momentum before they play Wasps in the back-to-back Champions Cup fixtures heading into Christmas.

Like any sport, rugby is all about gathering momentum, and certainly having games against Cardiff Blues and Treviso provides Connacht with their chance to build a steady base now.

But for Connacht the crucial role in the next few months is the playmaking position that the injured Andrew Browne vacated when he left the field against Dragons.

When they beat Toulouse he was a key component of that victory, and without him in the Connacht engine room someone is going to have to step up and make an impact.

But it's an exciting time for the province, and if they can get a couple of wins now they will be ready for Wasps next month.

Irish Independent

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