Tuesday 6 December 2016

Don't change now - just go and win it

Memorable victory over Munster has Lam's side on the cusp of history

Johnny O'Connor

Published 22/04/2016 | 02:30

Munster and Connacht have been handed tough Champions Cup draws
Munster and Connacht have been handed tough Champions Cup draws

This Connacht squad deserve their rest this weekend and with the game to come against Treviso it's all set up for a cracker at home to Glasgow on the final round of the Pro12 in the Sportsground.

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What a fantastic game that was against Munster. What a win and what a great team display. Some brilliant individual performances too, and a great atmosphere generated by the Connacht support, as we have become accustomed to.

All round it couldn't have gone much bette.

When Munster got their two early tries it really tested Connacht's mettle. On the back of the Challenge Cup quarter-final defeat to Grenoble, it shows that if you establish a strong philosophy within a team it makes it that bit easier to get back on track.

Different breed

They look like a different breed at the moment and at times they were unstoppable against Munster.

Having conceded 14 points early in the game, in the past Connacht would have allowed Munster to push on and get out of sight before half-time. But the scrum got on top and the penalties soon followed.

James Cronin's yellow card was a big turning point, as was Billy Holland's sin-binning, and they added to the momentum already behind Connacht's drive for the win. Finlay Bealham and Denis Buckley were brilliant in the scrum, and they laid the foundation as they provided the solid set-piece to work with.

Indeed it was a destructive scrum, and Connacht piled on the pressure and destroyed Munster whenever they got the opportunity. Connacht even had the audacity to break from a scrum five metres from their own line, and that paid dividends with Bundee Aki getting them to half-way.

And what can you say for Bundee? He went down at one stage, with what looked to be a serious knee injury. But he got back up hobbled over to his place in the defensive line, and a couple of minutes later he was sprinting up-field leaving Keith Earls in his wake.

It was a measure of the man that he gave such a big performance in a massively important game for the team. He is the heartbeat of the Connacht team at the moment, and I lost count of how many defenders he beat against Munster last weekend.

Not only that but you can see that he is constantly talking to those around him, he is making big hits in defence, he is to the forefront of every confrontation and he thrives the physicality of it all.

You need someone like that in your team, and he is turning out to be one of the best ever signings for Connacht.

Hopefully he will be okay for the run-in because he is fundamental to the team's chances of winning some silverware.

It's crazy to think that Connacht still have an interest in the title with just two games to go in the regular season, and with Treviso away and Glasgow at home, there is absolutely no reason why they cannot qualify in the top two.

Leinster have a tough outing next weekend away to Ulster too, so with two wins, who knows, Connacht could finish top of the standings and that would give them a very winnable play-off in the Sportsground.

Going to Treviso is always a more difficult task than people think. Ulster and Leinster are the only two teams that opened them up this term at Stadio Monigo, with some of the other teams in the competition struggling with two or three-point margins.

Maximum

With 55 tries in 20 games this season, Connacht create a lot of opportunities, which could put them in position to claim a bonus point.

The coaching staff will have the team well prepared and it would be great to get the maximum while still being able to rest a few players.

There will hopefully be another three games after the Treviso fixture, so it's crucial Connacht have as many fit bodies to choose from as possible. And it seems everyone is coming back at the right stage of the season.

They don't have to change it up now, if they just keep going like they have, they could do something very special.

If you're good enough, you're big enough

During the second half of the win over Munster, Denis Buckley got himself in the perfect jackal position and won a penalty, writes Johnny O'Connor.

It's a string to his bow that many props don't have; along with his scrummaging and all-round play in the loose he gave another stand-out display.

It's one thing having a game like that every now and again, but Denis has been doing it now for a number of years. He is surely one of the most consistent performers in the Connacht team and is due an Ireland call-up.

When the squad was announced for the training camp last weekend, I assumed he would be in it. But for whatever reason, he continues to miss out.

The only possible reason I can think of is because some people may say he's too small to play there. But if Denis put on any more weight it would take away from his play in the loose. And even in the scrum, I cannot remember the last time an opposing tighthead gave him difficulties.

He needs to be called up, there should never be absolutes in what you think a player needs physically, particularly when he is delivering performances.

Irish Independent

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