Saturday 22 October 2016

Henshaw can provide spark on his return

Big improvement needed to atone for sub-par display against Munster

Johnny O'Connor

Published 03/04/2015 | 02:30

Robbie Henshaw returned to Connacht training this week
Robbie Henshaw returned to Connacht training this week
Connacht’s Shane Delahunt during training in the Sportsground

It's hard to find positives from the Munster game because we know that Connacht are a well-drilled and well-coached side, but they just didn't deliver or execute the basics as well as they can.

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It was disappointing in terms of what they conceded and especially when you factor in how they were still right in it up until the 55th minute.

Unfortunately, there are 80 minutes on the clock in a game of rugby so you need to play for the full length of time. They were always there or thereabouts in the first half and I thought at half-time they were doing really well.

But they were just poor towards the end of the game and in general they that bit of attention to detail at the moment. They're just missing a bit of spark and I think you need to get Robbie Henshaw back onto the pitch in order to provide that.

He's going to add a lot of quality, and so too will Bundee Aki when he returns. They will definitely help Connacht win games.

But one positive Connacht can definitely draw on is the performance of Denis Buckley who had something like four or five turnovers and again was very solid in the scrum.

He could easily be an option for Ireland at some stage. Other clubs will certainly be looking at him as well because he has been pretty consistent when he has played this season.

Dan McFarland played a huge role in the development of Buckley and it's sad to see him go just as Denis starts to become a real international class loose-head.

But outside of Denis you would struggle to find another star performer in Connacht colours last weekend.

Conor Finn did really well considering he only came in at the last minute but his injury just highlighted further how much Connacht need to get Henshaw and Aki back as soon as possible.

Bigger squads tend to thrive at this time of the year when you need to be at your best and Connacht haven't done well coming out of breaks either to this year, if we are being honest.

They've come back from lay-offs and the results have not been as good as what they wanted and needed to be. Maybe Connacht are one of those teams that needs to be playing every weekend rather than getting breaks which stalls their momentum.

Saying all that, if Robbie is fit and good to go this evening against Gloucester, I think that will have a significant impact on how the team performs. Obviously he will draw a lot attention towards himself in terms of the opposition and how they approach him in defence.

But I think at this stage he's well able to deal with that himself physically and it will open up space elsewhere on the pitch for the other guys to profit from and create more scores.

You've got to park the Pro12 now and go and play in a competition that in reality doesn't matter with regards to qualification for next season's Champions Cup.

But it is a big occasion to go and play against Gloucester in the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup and there's certainly a semi-final spot there for the taking. A home-semi at the Sportsground would be huge for Connacht rugby so on that side of things the lads have plenty to play for.

Tonight Connacht are dealing with a Gloucester side, who have been struggling this year under David Humphreys, but in fairness, it is only his first year as Director of Rugby.

There's a lot of change going on there this season and teams probably think there are more opportunities to win at Kingsholm - they've been turned over a few times on their home soil this year.

It's a good chance to get into the semi-finals of a European competition, but you don't want to sustain injuries that might affect your progress in the Pro12.

I'm living in London so I'm on reporting duty with Michael Corcoran at the game this evening for RTE Radio.

I won't get time to catch up with the guys because I need to head back home again straight away but I'm looking forward to watching the game.

It'll be a big occasion for both sides. I'd imagine Kingsholm will be full and there'll be a great atmosphere.

Irish Independent

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