Friday 9 December 2016

European exploits give us a great platform to make history at RDS

Player Diary: John Muldoon

Published 28/10/2016 | 02:30

It was brilliant to see Stacey Ili justify his selection by scoring a hat-trick in Zebre. SPORTSFILE
It was brilliant to see Stacey Ili justify his selection by scoring a hat-trick in Zebre. SPORTSFILE

It's great to be top of our pool in the Champions Cup after the first couple of matches. When the groups and fixture list were announced we were obviously hoping that we would get off to a good start, but two wins from two and nine points is great.

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The draw between Toulouse and Wasps is a strange one, and it is hard to know whether it's a positive or negative for us. But we are just looking after ourselves and our own house. If we stay winning it doesn't matter what the other teams do in their matches.

We know we've made a good start and now it's back to the Pro12 this week.

We made a slow start to the season - we didn't get going for a few weeks - but in recent matches we are hitting a good bit of form. We look a lot closer to where we were operating at towards the end of last season.

There were a few things that didn't go right for us early on but it's clicking now.

But there are tough games ahead and it doesn't get more difficult than Leinster in the RDS. It's always a tough game, and historically we haven't done well up there - we have never won at the RDS in the Pro12.

Against Zebre last weekend, they got their hooker Oliveiro Fabiani sent off, and the big thing for us was just to concentrate on what we had been doing and keep working hard. That can be a downside when someone gets sent off or yellow-carded on the opposing team: people might think it's just going to happen for them, but it won't.

Tempo

In the ten or 15 minutes after the red card we let the tempo go out of the game. That was one of the things that we spoke about at half-time, to bring the tempo back into the game, and try and speed everything up and move them around more.

If we did that we knew we would wear them down eventually, and thankfully that was the way it happened early in the second half. We scored straight away so that gave us a big confidence boost and we could build on that.

That paved the way for the win and it was great to do it so comprehensively on the road. But it's back to our bread and butter now and we are focused solely on the Pro12.

I was in the academy when Connacht last won up in Leinster, in Donnybrook in 2002. So it's been a while since we have won away to them, but we look at that as being a big opportunity for us a group.

We went up there last year and came away very disappointed after a game where we had done very well for long periods, but we made a few mistakes and they capitalised on them.

With a team like Leinster, on their home patch, you can't afford to make any mistakes and they punished us when we did that last season.

We know that in the last few weeks we have made mistakes in our game and there will be a big onus on us to improve again this week going up to the RDS.

We all know the big names that Leinster have, but there are a lot of younger guys coming through now as well. They want to make a name for themselves and that creates more competition within their squad. We understand that whatever 23 they put out, it will be a strong team.

Leinster hate losing at home, and these derby games are always hard-fought.

We will have to improve on our European form to catch Leinster but we know we have what it takes.

We were very disappointed with the start of the season. We were making a few mistakes and we got punished badly for them.

In the last couple of weeks we have looked a different team and thankfully some of those things that work so well for us have come back to us quickly.

We always knew it was going to be tough this year to back up what we did last season but we are starting to click and new partnerships are beginning to form as we head into Leinster.

Last weekend was an example of how the incoming lads are taking their opportunities, which is important and leads to increased competition in the squad, which is good for the morale of the group.

If we do the right stuff we know we can win rugby matches, we know we have the quality of rugby player to win big games it's just a matter of us all doing our jobs and doing them effectively.

The results have changed and we are working a bit smarter now and getting confidence from scoring tries as well.

It's always tough for guys coming into the squad when the season has started. Marnitz Boshoff arrived last week and it's up to us to help him get up to speed on our game and relationships as quickly as possible. There's a lot to take in, but you see what Stacey Ili did last weekend.

He was brilliant against Zebre, and it was brilliant to see him justify his inclusion and score a hat-trick. That must give Marnitz huge encouragement.

For Stacey, to score three tries on your full Connacht debut in the Champions Cup is fantastic.

James Cannon and Lewis Stevenson came in late as well this season. They have got thrown in at the deep end and they are performing.

Marnitz is going to have to learn quickly and the key is getting everyone to chip in and help him out, but we look forward to it.

Irish Independent

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