Wednesday 28 June 2017

Johnny O'Connor: Agonising for Connacht to let huge chance slip

Lads sure to learn from this setback and come back stronger in chase for top-six spot

Tiernan O’Halloran could translate his provincial heroics into Six Nations success Picture: Sportsfile
Tiernan O’Halloran could translate his provincial heroics into Six Nations success Picture: Sportsfile
O’Connor: A dejected John Muldoon and his team-mates will learn from last weekend’s Toulouse defeat Picture: Sportsfile

Johnny O'Connor

I haven't been so wrapped up in a game in a long time. It was hard to watch those dying minutes as Connacht's European dream went down the drain, but now is the time to re-group and bounce back, and I think they can do it.

Stade Ernest Wallon presented Connacht with an opportunity. Everyone knew Toulouse would come out and start as they did, and it would be difficult to stop them in the opening exchanges. But Connacht kept in touch.

At half-time with the gap that was there, Connacht were well aware that a huge Toulouse side would tire late on, and the chances would come. And just like everyone predicted, Toulouse slowed, while Connacht went through the gears.

Astray

Unfortunately, at the end, Connacht just couldn't earn a penalty or set up a score a drop-goal. They would have been disappointed that they caused themselves problems near the end of the game, with some lineouts going astray, and basic errors.

Toulouse were great around the breakdown. They had big guys poaching and once a Connacht player got tackled, Toulouse would flood the breakdown, fill the space and make it almost impossible to recycle possession.

Connacht weren't accurate enough anyway, and with all of the French bodies on the ground it inevitably went Toulouse's way. They are big men and hard to shift so it was difficult to get that continuity throughout the game, from a Connacht point of view.

But even taking that into consideration it was still just a kick in it come the 80-minute mark. It was disappointing but you have to give the Connacht guys credit. They were never given a chance with Toulouse and Wasps in their pool. People might have said, Zebre were in the pool, so there's a handy ten points, but Connacht had two of the aristocrats of European rugby against them as well.

Connacht had two fantastic victories over Toulouse and Wasps at home, they got to the brink, and if there had been a few more players available for that game it may have been a different scenario come full-time, but they fell short and that's life.

Sometimes a team can do a lot of right things in a match but they just can't get over the line when it counts, and Connacht will be disappointed with how it has worked out in the end.

It can work out that you only get one chance at something like this. That may have been the only opportunity that some of those players will ever get to get into a Champions Cup quarter-final.

You don't always get another crack of the whip. It's tough when you work so hard to get into that position and it's a shame Connacht fell short.

I don't think these players will carry any baggage from this result and they certainly won't let their season fall asunder. If there is a chance of getting into the top six in the Pro12 then it's worth chasing; if it's mathematically impossible then they go and give other guys game-time and the dynamic changes, but it's nowhere near that situation yet.

Connacht could even go on a bit of a run from this: they have got players coming back. And if they get in the top six then that is a good end to the season. After all, Connacht did themselves proud in Europe and they will go from there.

Continuity

It has been difficult because of the amount of injuries. It is hard to put a team together and get any sort of continuity going when you can't put a team on the field every week. But hopefully they're through the worst of it.

Pat Lam talks about culture and there's definitely something in this Connacht side. You have to set a barometer of what the right behaviours are, and you have got feel the club is in the right space at the moment. I would imagine they are in a good place and they will kick on from here.

And the Six Nations has probably come at the right time; hopefully Kieran Marmion, Ultan Dillane, Finlay Bealham and Tiernan O'Halloran will make a big contribution for Ireland and they can come back refreshed and ready to hit the ground running in the Pro12 again.

Irish Independent

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