Saturday 23 September 2017

Down-time vital ahead of crunch run of games

Kieran Marmion, being tackled by Lloyd Greeff of Zebre, and his team-mates will be glad of the break Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Kieran Marmion, being tackled by Lloyd Greeff of Zebre, and his team-mates will be glad of the break Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Jimmy Duffy

It was great to be back home at the Sportsground last Friday in front of a big crowd. Despite the elements, the players and supporters didn't disappoint and delivered a performance and atmosphere that everyone can be proud of.

It was a short turnaround between arriving back home on Sunday evening from the Treviso game, and then straight into preparation for Zebre. To have 12 changes to the starting team and gain a bonus-point win was really pleasing.

The conditions last Friday night were some of the worst I had ever witnessed at the Sportsground. It required a huge effort by our head of operations, Karl Boyle, and ground staff, led by Dave Holland, who worked tirelessly on the pitch with various drainage methods to ensure it was playable.

And once the referee indicated he was happy for the game to go ahead, we all just prepared as normal.

While it was an extremely short turnaround last week, our main team session on Wednesday was held in torrential rain. So, in a way, we had some preparation under our belt for the conditions.

Having said that, I didn't envy the players out there on the night. Considering the weather, I thought it was a really professional effort from the entire match-day squad.

We had targeted this game for a bonus-point win but took nothing for granted and it could have been tempting to concede to the conditions, but we stuck to the game-plan and scored some good tries in the process.

Roll over

Zebre didn't roll over either. By half-time we had scored two tries but they came out a lot stronger after the break and really put it up to us.

Thankfully, we kept them out with some good defence on our line, and it's satisfying that we have kept the opposition try-less in our last two home games.

There were a number of changes in the backline and we had an entirely new pack out there with guys like Eoghan Masterson and Andrew Browne coming back from long-term injuries. But everyone was clear on their roles and we executed well.

Naturally, it wasn't perfect and we have some work-ons but in a way we see that as a positive. There is huge competition in training now with so many coming off the injury list and guys are really pushing each other hard for a starting place.

While it makes selection difficult, it is what you want as a coach.

We secured four wins from four and 18 points out of a possible 20 in the last block so we're relatively happy in that regard. We know there is a lot of speculation out there in terms of where we are in the Pro12 table and what would have to happen if we are to finish in the top six.

Truthfully, we are not looking at that. Once we start worrying about other teams and their games, we'll be taking an eye off our own job. It's a game-by-game focus for us and we're looking for as many wins and as many points as possible. Where that leaves us at the end of the season, we shall see.

Obviously, Champions Cup qualification is one of the main goals of Connacht Rugby. That will be the case every season. We got a real taste of what could be in Europe this season when we came within one score of reaching a first ever quarter-final. We want to get back there and compete.

Most of the squad had a hard-earned week off with no Pro12 game this weekend. We've been together for 36 weeks since the start of pre-season so it's really important for everyone to get a few days away from the Sportsground.

It's more of a mental break really as, even though there's no official training, the players will of course continue training in their own time to keep the body ticking over.

After the break we're facing into another tough block of four games against Glasgow, Zebre, Edinburgh and Leinster. The first three are on the road so it will be another crucial period for the club.

We held the Zebre review on Sunday to sign off the game but after that it was a bit of down-time for the players and coaches. I'll watch the Ireland game tonight and look forward to getting back to work on Monday in preparation for Glasgow.

Irish Independent

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