Friday 30 September 2016

Great chance to end block with big win

Scarlets will pose severe test but Lam's side have ability to do it

Johnny O'Connor

Published 29/01/2016 | 02:30

Robbie Henshaw scores his side’s fifth try against Enisei-STM
Robbie Henshaw scores his side’s fifth try against Enisei-STM
Kieran Marmion, Connacht, is tackled by Iurii Kushnarev

It's great to see Connacht back into the knockout phase of a European competition. And last weekend's eight-try victory over Enisei-STM was the perfect precursor to the biggest game of their season against Scarlets this weekend.

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But in April, when the next European weekend comes around, Connacht will be focusing on a quarter-final, while the other three provinces will have to sit back and watch them, which is a refreshing change.

Saying all that Leinster, Munster and Ulster all had difficult pools in the Champions Cup this season, but Connacht can be the standard-bearers for Ireland for the rest of the season.

Their quarter-final against Grenoble will get a lot of focus, which will be massive for the province especially if they win and end up getting that home semi-final. But these things go in cycles and Connacht need to take advantage of the extra exposure and revel in it.

It's great to get Grenoble as well. With Bernard Jackman, Mike Prendergast and Andrew Farley all involved on their side, there will be a bit more spice added to this fixture.

Connacht can only be boosted by the events of last weekend. Eight tries and a comprehensive victory is always great, no matter who the opposition are.

And Pat Lam went with his strongest team which some people had questioned, but I thought it was the right policy.

And also there was the matter of actually getting the bonus point too, so they did the job that was asked of them. It was also great to see Robbie Henshaw get some vital game-time, for the first time since November too, and they qualified which was the main goal.

But it was the first game against Enisei-STM, in Siberia, that gave them the launch-pad to escape from Pool 1 at the end of the day.

From what I heard, Connacht put in a lot of time preparing for that trip to Russia. A lot of detail went into it and that was probably the main difference, when you look at the fact that Brive and Newcastle Falcons went over there and lost - Newcastle didn't even get a losing bonus point.

SERIOUSLY

But Connacht took it very seriously and went to Enisei-STM and came back with the bonus-point win. They knew what the conditions were going to be like, and they didn't leave anything to chance.

Their approach to booking the right accommodation, getting themselves there early, and having the right squad, was very professional. That was the game that mattered in the end.

And this weekend is massive too. A win at home to Scarlets will keep Connacht in contention at the business end of the Pro12 standings ahead of the break, and it will give them momentum before the Six Nations.

Going away for a week, you either have a winning feeling, or you get to carry the weight of a loss on your shoulders - and that's not a nice feeling. Often what happens, when you lose a game like that it can stick out in the back of your mind and can been hard to shake off during the break.

So Connacht needed to work hard this week. They'll be in a healthy state of mind going into this match, and with the extra pressure and competitiveness within the squad that will lay the platform for victory.

And if they do get the win here, they will be back on the crest of the wave and who knows where that will take them during the Six Nations?

Connacht cannot fall into the trap of seeking revenge. The loss in Parc y Scarlets earlier this month was very difficult to take but Connacht must forget about that. In rugby, every match is a new one and anything can happen, a season can change in an instant.

Connacht could bang in a late try and win against them tomorrow and that's a huge swing in their season. Matt Healy could star again, and get called up to the Ireland squad, like Finlay Bealham did midweek - who knows?

But they need to know how to focus on their own personal jobs. If they do that, it shuts out the opposition and provides the possibility to change the course of their season, and their own individual careers.

Irish Independent

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