Monday 25 September 2017

Keane's boys will fancy another win

Set-piece should free lively backs at Dragons

Quinn Roux being tackled by Rudi van Rooyen of Southern Kings and, right, Connacht head coach Kieran Keane and captain John Muldoon SPORTSFILE
Quinn Roux being tackled by Rudi van Rooyen of Southern Kings and, right, Connacht head coach Kieran Keane and captain John Muldoon SPORTSFILE

Ronan Loughney

That first half against Southern Kings was good viewing. There were plenty of positives throughout, but Connacht will look to that first 40 minutes as the benchmark for this weekend.

As Kieran Keane said afterwards, the second half was not as accurate and while it took a little bit longer to get the bonus point than expected, it's hard to complain about five points. 

The set-piece performed efficiently and a couple of tries came off the back of mauls. The Connacht management will be happy to see their well-timed replacements made a good impact also. With six points now on the board, things look rosier already.

Last week's weather conditions allowed Connacht to play a bit of rugby, while the previous game was a bit of a stalemate in a storm until Warriors edged it. It's hard to judge a performance playing in such bad weather.

One thing those conditions afford you is plenty of set-piece work. This week was an improvement at set-piece, having clearly ironed out some kinks and benefited from the reps against Glasgow. The setting of the maul was impressive, albeit I thought the Kings were very slow to react in defence.

Before the Glasgow game I did a piece with Ben Whitehouse for TG4, and he explained the new trial laws at scrum-time. Whenever there is a trial law change like that you can be sure that they will immediately look for teams to comply in these areas, and we saw the scrum penalised on a couple of occasions under the new directives.

But the scrum was much improved at the weekend and they laid down an early marker against the Southern Kings. There are some very strong scrummagers in the Connacht pack and an excellent ethos for hard work. This will be an important weapon against Dragons.

Kieran Keane will be pleased with the options now at his disposal. With the members of the summer touring squad now back, and competition for spots heating up, Keane will be able to manage the workload of players and keep guys fresh and hungry to play.

Sharp Darragh Leader was a guy who came back to full fitness late in the season last year, but with the benefit of a full pre-season behind him, he looks sharp and took his try well. Having him fit gives the coaches another option of an out-and-out full-back, and with Tiernan's likely increased involvement in the Irish team and squad having more depth at full-back and on the wing is important.

This weekend's trip to Dragons is one that is expected to deliver a win, and while I've been involved in a few games there over the years, victory is never easily earned at Rodney Parade. It was not a particularly nice place to play.

The pitch was always very poor. This has now been remedied with the new hybrid playing surface that they have just laid.

They have a shed across from the new stand - similar to the Clan Stand - but they love nothing better than giving the precariously positioned visiting subs' bench plenty of abuse. It can be an interesting experience.

Already this is a huge game for Dragons. They have lost their first two, albeit against Leinster first up, while they seemed to improve away to Edinburgh last weekend. No doubt they'll be looking to pick up a first win here.

With Bernard Jackman's appointment, they are clearly looking for change at the club, and he has received solid backing by the WRU and the new chairman who have taken over the club. They have new defence, skills and forwards coaches and they seem to be looking to rebuild from the ground up.

I was in my first season in the academy when Jackman was in his final year in Connacht, but since then he seems to have grown well into the coaching game.

By all accounts, he is a good fella to work with. I'm sure he'll be given time to succeed with Dragons and if the region gets behind him, he'll definitely bring them on.

But I think this is a game Connacht will win. If the pack can create a platform like last week then Connacht's backs have the ability to create scores, and with the new surface it should suit the expansive game that Connacht are most dangerous playing.

Irish Independent

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