Friday 22 September 2017

Johnny O'Connor: You can't read anything into half a game

Cutting out individual errors crucial against team like Scarlets

Bundee Aki showed last season that he had it in him to take control of a game. Picture: Sportsfile
Bundee Aki showed last season that he had it in him to take control of a game. Picture: Sportsfile
Pat Lam needs at least one of his players to step up. Picture: Sportsfile

It was a bit strange last weekend when Connacht's game against Zebre was postponed. At the time Connacht were 22-10 down and Pat Lam subsequently said it was down to individual errors, which can make a big difference to a team.

If a guy messes up, that cuts the line off completely and you have to start back again. It's not good but it's not the end of the world either. Things can go wrong from time to time. If Connacht are just going through a rough patch they have to learn from it and they will be okay.

They're still a good team and something like this could serve them well in the future when they get to a similar scenario. Last Christmas something similar happened, and look how they responded then.

And things can change in an instant for an individual and a team. If you are in a bad period when things aren't going how you would want them, you need to carry through that belief. Winners never give up on themselves or their team-mates, and that's what Connacht require.

But some people just have that innate necessity to want people to fail, when they have done well or won something. And you can see it now - some of the pundits are beginning to start digging into Connacht.

Last weekend, even though Zebre were 22-10 ahead, it was just a half-time score. We don't know what might have happened in the next 40 minutes. Connacht could have won it. You can't draw conclusions from the first half of an abandoned match.

Ultimately, it just gives the lads more game-time and that's something that they have been severely lacking so far this season.

When you are going through a fallow period like this you can get restrictive on yourself. Your mind works in funny ways and you over-think and force things.

Generally, subconsciously you get on with it and it flows. Last year there was more of an off-the-cuff element. Connacht stuck to their systems but played with a freedom that allowed them to express themselves.

Easier

When you are doing that it makes the game of rugby so much easier. Players don't have the weight of the world on their shoulders. And the unfortunate thing about being defending champions is you have to learn to cope with expectation.

And it will follow them over to Wales this weekend where they will be met by a strong Scarlets side. And without Scarlets having lost three times in a row, Parc y Scarlets is a difficult enough place to visit. They will be so hungry to get that first win under their belts in front of their home fans. They recruited strongly in the summer and that squad hasn't clicked yet either.

But if Connacht can get their scrum right they can be dominant around that area and that is so crucial when you play Scarlets. As is the breakdown, which no doubt, Connacht would have perfected in recent weeks after their poor start to the season in that facet of play.

The interesting thing about Scarlets is they historically race out of the blocks in the Pro12 and then they ease up towards the end of the season, and end up missing out on the play-off places.

But this season for whatever reason things haven't gone right for them at the start. And this is the game they will have targeted to put in a massive display and put further pressure on one of their rivals for the top six this season.

When they click, they are just on it and they throw the ball around better than most teams in the league right now. So it will intriguing as to whether they can bring their 'A' game.

You expect Scarlets to be doing better with the squad that they have. But you can also say the same about Connacht. They are under-performing at the minute and something has to give, in this scenario - unless it's a draw.

Connacht have plenty of talent, and it's not that they are playing badly. It's just that none of the players have grabbed the spotlight. They have all been good in parts but no one has stood out.

Last season there were games where the likes of Bundee Aki took control, or Aly Muldowney or Matt Healy. Right now, the collective are just that bit behind and someone needs to stand up.

Irish Independent

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