Friday 21 October 2016

Finding a way to conquer Ulster is never easy, but we're back in form

Published 07/10/2016 | 02:30

Connacht’s John Muldoon is tackled by Edinburgh’s Magnus Bradbury and Ross Ford in the Westerners’ first Pro12 win this season. Picture: Sportsfile
Connacht’s John Muldoon is tackled by Edinburgh’s Magnus Bradbury and Ross Ford in the Westerners’ first Pro12 win this season. Picture: Sportsfile

Even if it was just to settle everyone, getting that win under our belt last weekend was great. It has taken a little bit of pressure off everyone around the place.

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Two home defeats already this season is not what we'd planned, so we want to make sure we look after our own patch at the Sportsground from here on in.

To get the bonus-point win was very pleasing, but the manner in which we did it was what satisfied us the most. That performance was almost back to the way we played last year. We were a little bit sharper than we have been in the last few weeks and it showed.

The win was big for us, and the five points was the cherry on top. But really what we needed was to win with a decent display too. We know it wasn't perfect, there were a few mistakes for us to look at as we reviewed our performance, but it was more like what we are used to and what we aim for.

In the build-up to the Edinburgh game, we tried to get back to the things that we were really good at last year. We knew ourselves that we hadn't been on the mark like we should have been, so paring it back a small bit, going back to the basics of what won us the league last year, was what was needed.

We worked hard on our breakdown, upping the quality of our ball, working hard off the ball and on the ball, and our speed at getting into our shape.


You can't forget how hard we had to work to win games, but I think we are coming back close now to where we were. A lot of teams know what our shape and attack systems are, but if we work hard, get into our shape early, we can be very hard to stop.

When things don't go well for us as a team the first thing that happens is the finger is pointed at the man who pulls the strings, and there was a lot more of us had to put our hands up other than Jack Carty. We were all a fraction off over the last few weeks.

Jack played very well last weekend, but once the lads around him run better lines it gives him a chance. He kicked well off the ground and really well out of the hand, I thought, all of which gives us confidence. It is always good to see your decision-makers playing well, and when they perform you tend to win games.

On the down side, we picked up a few injuries. We had been lucky enough over the last few weeks that we hadn't had too many, but we play a contact sport and you're going to get setbacks like that.

They always seem to come at bad times, but there is never a good time to get injuries. Denis, Tom and Matt will be out for a while, but it just means that it is a chance of other lads to impress.

Whoever comes in has to grasp that chance with both hands, but that is something we have done well over the last few seasons. Sometimes it is an injury that sees someone get some game-time, and that can be the thing that kick-starts a career.

My memory is full of bad days against Ulster over the years, but I think this is a great chance for us to put all that to bed. It has always been a tough game for us, no matter where we play them.

Ravenhill has always been a graveyard for us, we played well there last season and came away with nothing. They are obviously the form team in the league at the moment and they were the only team to beat us at the Sportsground last season, so we know the challenge we face.

Charles Piutau played with Wasps last season, but anyone that has seen him in the last few seasons knows how good he is. He's already a huge player for them, along with Ruan Pienaar, Paddy Jackson and their other Irish internationals.

With five wins from five, we know what they'll bring: they have big physical centres that like to crash it up; speedy wingers and full-backs; and then they have forwards that can mix and match and do everything. They have a good scrum and always have an exceptional lineout. Their maul is strong, they are good around the park, so for sure, we'll have to be at our best to win this one.

They will be pushing hard this year to be the top team in Ireland, so it will be an interesting test for us.

They are a top-class team, but like everyone they have areas that other teams will target too. I think if you can get stuck in to Ulster, it's possible to put them under a bit of pressure. With the back-line they have, if you try and get on top of their forwards, then maybe you can limit the quality of ball they get, then that can put them under some pressure.

Their counter-attack is an extremely strong weapon too. Kicking the ball needlessly and inaccurately to them is a waste of time; you can't let them counter-attack when you are vulnerable. With that back three they will be dangerous if they are handed good opportunities.

There are a few areas that you have to be solid at, you cannot feed their strengths because they will cause you problems all day if you are loose against them. Find out what they are good at and then trying to cut out their supply is the key.

But on our own game we have identified a few things that we can bother them with. The amount of analysis that is being done by everyone now means it is harder and harder to find those chinks, but we'll go hard at those areas of the game and hopefully it will see us over the line.

Irish Independent

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