Sunday 30 April 2017

Having a bit of time to work on improvements is most welcome

Ultan Dillane is tackled by New Zealand’s Liam Squire in Soldier Field. Photo: Sportsfile
Ultan Dillane is tackled by New Zealand’s Liam Squire in Soldier Field. Photo: Sportsfile

John Muldoon

It was nice to get some time away last week. I headed to New York for the few days, to relax and unwind ahead of another busy schedule for Connacht Rugby.

It's great to have this weekend off too - you need to take the time to look after yourself and chill out for a few days and then get back into the thick of things with some good solid training when you return.

We were back in on Monday and we were able to assess what has and what hasn't been working for us. This week gave us a good opportunity to study aspects of our game that we mightn't be able to look at leading into a match. We looked to make a few improvements to our game plan as well.

Rugby is a squad game and we are depending on a squad to perform and compete at the highest level. But over the last while we have been unfortunate to be losing more players to injury and it can be tough when you only have 12 forwards doing a forwards session - you can't get through everything you would like to.

The break came at the right time for us, and hopefully over the next couple of weeks we will see a few lads returning from injury. We need to add that depth and competition back into the squad. The break is great mentally but it also gives guys the chance to get back training.

In terms of the guys who are away with the national set-up, it was fantastic to see them doing so well at the Aviva Stadium last weekend, with four tries scored by Connacht players and Ultan Dillane getting man of the match.

Producing

It's brilliant to see them represent Connacht and their families at a higher level, especially with the performances so good. We keep seeing more and more lads from Connacht producing it on the day for Ireland and we take so much pride in that.

I know Tiernan O'Halloran felt he had a lot to prove in an Ireland jersey after getting his chance during the summer. And to get two tries last weekend, well he can't do much more really.

Ultan obviously did exceptionally well to turn in that performance. We all know the massive potential that he possesses and I think he will have a huge say in the Irish team going forward.

Kieran Marmion and Finlay Bealham were great too and the goal for us is to get more and more guys involved in the national set-up. From that point of view, it was fantastic to see Niyi Adeolokun go out and win his first cap.

It was well-deserved. It was only a few years ago when he was playing club rugby with Trinity and three seasons later he is playing international rugby. A lot of that is down to his character. He is very determined and the reason he got to wear an Ireland jersey is because of all of the hard work he has put in.

He has taken every opportunity that has come his way. When he first walked into the Sportsground, a skinny, smiley young fella, to play an 'A' game, you were looking at him funny. But then to see him playing for Ireland - I am delighted for him. He's a great guy and he's really well respected in the squad.

It's back to another big time for Irish rugby this weekend, and they welcome the All Blacks to the Aviva Stadium in what has become a huge match for both sides.

Being honest, I was surprised that Ireland actually beat New Zealand at Soldier Field two weeks ago. Joe Schmidt's game plan was exceptional and they attacked the weaknesses of New Zealand.

The tactic to use the high ball to take the tempo out of the game, was inspired, and Ireland forced New Zealand into silly errors. They gave away a lot of penalties and it's rare that you see the reigning world champions losing their discipline time and again like they did that day.

I worry for Ireland this weekend. New Zealand won't play like that twice, and they certainly won't give away as many penalties on this occasion.

I certainly wouldn't write Ireland off. They have got massive confidence from their first ever victory over the All Blacks, after 111 years. But it is going to be a tough day and they will need another stunning display to stand a chance.

Saying all that, in the last couple of years Irish rugby has really been on a crest of a wave and has grown exponentially in that time. There is a lot of goodwill out there, and the support base has grown rapidly as the teams have become more successful.

And so many people have jumped on in support - people first become fans of Irish rugby, and then that support trickles down into the provincial and club game. That's good for rugby in Ireland, because we need people like myself, who don't really come from rugby backgrounds, to get into the game.

More and more kids will grow up thinking they want to play sport and be a part of the great journey that Irish rugby is on at the minute.

We have got our traditional games in this country, and they take up a lot of youngsters entering sport for the first time. Rugby is sharing a small pool with a lot of other sports so it's important that they get people in.

With Ireland beating the undisputed best team in the world, it's a fantastic method of raising the hype around the team and around the sport.

But hopefully on the back of all of that, the team can turn it on again this weekend, and it would be a seismic victory if they could pull it off against New Zealand for the second time in a row.

Irish Independent

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