Monday 24 April 2017

Johnny O'Connor: Five points must be in their sights

Now's the time to take a leaf from Ireland's playbook and rout Dragons

Pat Lam – calling the shots at training earlier this week Picture: Sportsfile
Pat Lam – calling the shots at training earlier this week Picture: Sportsfile

Johnny O'Connor

It was a great way to get the season back on track at Cardiff Arms Park last weekend, and I feel Connacht need to take all five points against Dragons in the Sportsground tomorrow evening.

In fairness, at 13-0 down away to a bogey side like Cardiff Blues, Connacht showed immense character to fight their way back into the game and get a crucial win.

Connacht's season looked over, even after they had a great start to the game. You were always hoping they could get some points on the board, but when they failed to do that and Cardiff responded, it didn't look good.

Connacht had all of the possession and territory, and then just let Cardiff back into it. There were a few silly turnovers and that must have been frustrating for the guys out there.

Damage

But saying all that, Connacht never looked out of it either. They may have been behind on the scoreboard, but they always had the potential to do damage.

After Matt Healy scored their try, and at 13-7 behind at the break, Connacht were still very much in the game, even if they had a bit of a mountain to climb again in the second half.

It could have been the season done and dusted - if Connacht had lost that game they would have had nothing to play for. But the way the lads pulled it out at the end of the game was admirable. 

It was disappointing to see Jack Carty miss a relatively easy drop-goal. But I was delighted for Tiernan O'Halloran to take on the responsibility next, and he slotted his chance with ease. And then for Craig Ronaldson to score another penalty after that, the scoreboard gave a better reflection of how the game actually went.

Now this weekend, it doesn't matter who is back from injury, and who moves in and out from the starting 15, what really matters is the set-piece. The lineout is still really good, but it just lets them down at crucial periods in big games. 

The Connacht scrum has always been solid. But they need to get that right again, and their shape needs to be perfect. But all of that is coming.

And the defence is looking good too. With the players coming in, it ups the competition in training, and the urgency around the place. And that will lend itself to better rounded displays in future.

Connacht rarely come back well after a break and they don't get results. However recently they have been doing well consistently after long breaks - they showed that against Cardiff. And you would expect them to bounce on after a good win last weekend.

They really should target this one now. This is a bonus-point game and Connacht must run riot against a team like Dragons.

If there is any chance, and Dragons are down, Connacht need to keep their foot on the throat and run up a score.

There's no better example than what Ireland did to the hapless Italians last weekend, in a game where I wasn't sure what Joe Schmidt's men could do, after the way they had performed against Scotland.

It's hard to know how bad Italy were either - Ireland were -27 on the handicap with the bookies - but they were ruthless, and fair play to CJ Stander and Craig Gilroy, when they got their chances they didn't make any mistake.

Attack

If Ireland can attack like that in two weeks' time, I don't think the French will have an answer.

Tactically Ireland will kick a lot better than the Scots did against France last weekend, and they will expose their weaknesses better than Scotland did too. 

When you play France, you are dealing with the huge physical size of your opposite number, but if you stay with them for 40 to 50 minutes and don't let them build up a head of steam then they are there for taking, just like their club sides.

And a win there will set Ireland up for a crack at Wales, and England in a championship decider.

But in the meantime, hopefully Connacht will get their top six ambitions back on track in the Pro12.

England on the verge of slipping up

It was strange to hear Eddie Jones say that England had used up their last get out of jail card against Wales last weekend, but it's true, and their run is about to come to an end.

They just about got over the line in the Principality Stadium. They are on a run, with 16 Test match wins in a row, but it looks like it's just about to crack. And when you hear a man like Jones saying it, you know they are in trouble.

But I don't want to sound like I'm taking anything away from them either, they have been on a fabulous run and fair dues to them for getting to where they are.

After a poor showing, England got the win in Cardiff, but you still feel it's only a matter of time before they come unstuck somewhere in the next few weeks. 

What team is going to do that? I don't know. France have already been put to the sword, if only just, and Wales have missed their opportunity when they should have got the victory too. It's left to Scotland and Ireland, and one of those teams will definitely turn England over.

There won't be any Grand Slam in the Six Nations this year, and it will come down to points difference.

And the amount of tries Ireland scored against Italy could turn out to be significant.

Irish Independent

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