Sunday 26 February 2017

Johnny O'Connor: Mind games likely against Dan McFarland's Glasgow troops

Champions will be fired-up not to lose opening two games at home

Johnny O'Connor

Connacht and Dragons do battle under the Galway night sky
Connacht and Dragons do battle under the Galway night sky
Fionn Carr dots down (PIARAS Ó MÍDHEACH / SPORTSFILE)

Since former Connacht assistant coach Dan McFarland moved to Glasgow at the end of last season, he would have pinpointed this one on the fixture list. It's going to be very interesting at Scotstoun.

Even at this stage so early season, there's so much on the line for Connacht and Glasgow when they clash this evening.

It's unthinkable that the reigning champions would lose their first two Pro12 games, both of which were at home, and with a trip to take on Munster after the break they certainly can't afford to.

Glasgow missed their internationals last weekend against Scarlets, but there's no excuse for losing a game when the opponents are down to 12, when your team has the ball in their half and you are within a score.

But they lost that one and will look to put it right against Connacht in Round 2. They won't find it easy though.

Connacht lost 39-21 at Scotstoun last season, but the scoreline definitely didn't reflect the story of that game, where Connacht were well in it up until the end of the third-quarter.

That was a fully-fledged Glasgow side at the peak of their powers, and there will be a very different look to the 15 that lines out for them this time around.

The coach aspect is obviously most fascinating - McFarland knows everything there is to know about Connacht Rugby.

It will be interesting to see if the coaches stick to their game-plan and say: 'This is how we play and we are not changing', because they know so much about each other.

Maybe Pat Lam and Jimmy Duffy would be second-guessing themselves a little bit. They know how Dan goes about his business, but on the flip-side he can pre-empt how they will react to certain situations during the game.

Dan knows Connacht's areas of vulnerability so they need to be shored up, or they could be found out by a good Glasgow side. But let's not underestimate Connacht, and the solid display they had in Round 1 where they beat Dragons.

It was a good win, it was always going to get sloppy at some stage in the game, and that happened in the second half. But you could tell Connacht were on top. They weren't supremely confident in front, but that comes with game-time.

System-errors

Connacht did a lot of work on their defence in pre-season, so to concede a couple of tries in their season-opener will give management food for thought. There are going to be system-errors in the first game though and it is not the end of the world.

They also struggled against the blitz defence and that's another nice work-on for the coaching staff. But once you learn how to get around it, it's easy to open up teams.

All you have to do is get your players over the gain-line. Keep them on back foot and then they can't use the blitz defence against you. It sounds simple but in reality it's hard work. Connacht still won a tough game, and I am sure Pat Lam would have been happy to kick the season off with any kind of win.

Every game ebbs and flows and especially the first competitive game of the season. It's never fantastic, you're not going to be out of the blocks opening up teams - even from the other games there wasn't any stand-out performance.

It is a shame that Connacht didn't get a bonus point, and that probably allowed Dragons back into the game in the second half, when they started to chase the extra tries.

Against Glasgow, if Connacht fall behind early they cannot afford to force it like that. I have full faith in Jack Carty managing the game well, and you could see from his first-half display against Dragons that he is becoming really confident in himself. He has come on a long way since last season, and his use of the ball is far more intelligent.

It was great to see Fionn Carr get the try at the end of that game last week as well; he remains a massive option for Connacht on the wing and he showed he's still got gas.

If Connacht have teams on the back foot, they have some classy players that can do damage. With someone like Carr, if he gets a sniff of the try-line he will do damage, and it's a major asset.

Against Glasgow, they need to take every opportunity that comes their way, but I think they can do it.

Relax: England loss was just a rehearsal

Don’t worry about England doing victory laps and pundits blowing this out of proportion, it was just a World Cup warm-up writes Johnny O’Connor..

It wasn’t ideal to lose two games in a row against the Welsh and English, in the lead-up to the tournament, but the Irish players will have plenty in the locker when it kicks off against Canada.

Ireland did a lot of things right against England last weekend; the scrum was immense once more, and in the second half they could have won that game.

It meant much more to the English to get that victory on home soil before they host the tournament along with Wales. But they need to realise that the World Cup doesn’t actually begin until next Friday. Behind closed doors, Joe Schmidt will have his team primed for a crack at their Pool D opponents, rather than getting caught up in these sort of games. And, thankfully there weren’t any major injury concerns to come out of that game  from an Ireland perspective.

Away from the World Cup, it was fantastic to see Andrew Trimble perform so well for Ulster in their win over Ospreys – it shows that if players get injured, we have serious depth.

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