Friday 30 September 2016

Brimming with belief and aiming high

Lam’s men can really send out a message by beating Edinburgh

Johnny O'Connor

Published 30/10/2015 | 02:30

Connacht’s Craig Ronaldson is tackled by Sam Davies
Connacht’s Craig Ronaldson is tackled by Sam Davies

Let’s not get carried with how things stand in the Pro12, we know Connacht are high up the table and have played some great stuff. But we’re also well aware of how fickle this game can be.

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Last season Connacht were well on their way to a top six finish, and it was late in the season too, but things unravelled slightly and they missed out on qualification for the Champions Cup.

The same goal is on the table again this season: Connacht want to be back playing against Europe’s elite, and they are definitely going the right way about it, and I think expectations should be high.

Connacht don’t have the biggest squad in the Pro12, and with internationals returning it could be a tough few months ahead of them. So they need to keep their focus on what’s happening from week to week.

Massive

If they do, this run can take them into the top six or higher, because it seems that within the camp, they all have their heads screwed on, and confidence is a massive thing.

One play in particular stood out for me last weekend – Matt Healy’s try in the corner oozed class, and it came from the playbook of a side brimming with confidence.

Kieran Marmion saw the space, the pack did their job to create the opportunity, and Marmion and Healy finished it off expertly. Those are the type of plays that have us in awe when we see Dan Carter and Julian Savea finishing them off.

It was a massive win at the Liberty Stadium. Pat Lam got his selections spot on, and the players on the pitch did what no other Connacht team had managed before them.

But all in all, Connacht were confident that they had the stronger squad – it’s something we have rarely had in the past. Many times they have gone to Wales with a team full of quality but failed to come away with anything when push came to shove.

Bundee Aki was the real difference on this occasion, and it’s fantastic to see a real continuity in his performance levels. He looks more at home in the No 13 jersey, and he wreaked havoc against Ospreys.

Alongside him, Craig Ronaldson was another top performer, when you think Robbie Henshaw is yet to come back into the backline, it shows how Pat has created huge depth at centre.

I was really delighted to see Tieran O’Halloran getting captaincy too. I played with him during my latter days at the province, and it seems like a handing over of the reins now.

He’s only 24 and still has many more years of top-level rugby ahead of him, so it shows level of trust that has been placed in these guys. It was just disappointing to see Tiernan go off early.

Quinn Roux and Aly Muldowney worked well together again – another new second-row partnership, this season. John Muldoon was rested and came on late in the game, but it was nice to see youth run wild in the back row – Eoin McKeon, Nepia Fox-Matamua and Eoghan Masterson are serious talents.

So the building blocks are there for Connacht to keep the run going by beating Edinburgh at the Sportsground tomorrow. The Scots had a bit of disastrous result in Italy last weekend after a fantastic start to the season.

They will have a lot of their Scotland contingent slotting back in tomorrow, and they won’t be found wanting on the physical side of things.

Mixed

The results against them were quite mixed last year. Connacht had a great win over there in Round 2, with Willie Faloon getting that pushover try late on. But then disaster struck when Edinburgh came to the Sportsground and beat Connacht on a miserable evening for rugby in Galway.

On that occasion, Connacht had been on a mighty run of form, they had looked on course to meet their goals for the season, and some people were even talking about a top four finish when Leinster started to struggle.

There’s a few similarities about this meeting now. A win for Connacht would really send out a message, but it’s still early. Let’s keep the heads.

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