Saturday 29 April 2017

Lightning to strike twice in Toulouse

Lam's men can pull off another seismic shock if they nullify French giants' power early on

Pat Lam will be ready for Toulouse test with John Muldoon committing his future to the club for another year. Photo: Sportsfile
Pat Lam will be ready for Toulouse test with John Muldoon committing his future to the club for another year. Photo: Sportsfile

Johnny O'Connor

Sunday's clash in Toulouse is one of the biggest games in Connacht's history. The confidence is up after a big win over Zebre, and Pat Lam's men are poised to create another shock at Stade Ernest Wallon.

They made a shaky start at the Sportsground on Saturday, but they kept at it.

At times you could have said that Connacht were playing around too much in the wrong areas. But they were trying to put themselves in the best possible position for this weekend, by scoring as many tries as possible. Those scores will count later on when Round 6 is done and dusted.

John Cooney acquitted himself well at out-half; the biggest difference with having him in that position is he never has a crack at the gain-line like a conventional out-half would. And there were obviously nerves there considering it was his first time in that position.

Flowed

But the Connacht back-line probably flowed better because of his passing. Being a scrum-half, his distribution is naturally better, and that brought the guys outside him into the game more.

His kicking game out of hand would curtail his chances of slotting into the No 10 jersey on a regular basis, but overall he can be happy with the performance he put in.

It's great to have Craig Ronaldson back at centre too. He gives Connacht that flow and he is such a key player. The back-line seems to work better with him there: guys can work off him, he has an eye for a line breaks, and he's an extra kicking option.

James Cannon played really well too. He set up in the middle and filled that role well. He is finding his feet and it's fantastic to see a player putting their hand up in a pivotal position for Connacht.

Some of the tries Connacht scored were excellent, and you could see that was building confidence. You need that sort of victory sometimes, and it's good to get that bit of luck, a few things to come off and have a win wrapped up early.

But the big tests awaits and it doesn't get much bigger than Toulouse in France. Getting the opportunity to be in the knock-out stages of European rugby is huge.

I know Connacht won the Pro12 just last year, but to get to the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup would be massive for the province.

Toulouse were robbed at Wasps last weekend; they fell asleep and I don't know what they were doing, but I didn't expect that game to be as close and it sets up the final weekend even better than we thought.

It's great that Connacht didn't have to deal with drama like that ahead of this weekend. Lam's side had the bonus point sown up early against Zebre and then they could take guys off.

The game this weekend will take on a life of its own.

The English and French sides are all absolutely gargantuan. With Toulouse over there, there will be a storm for the first 20 or 25 minutes and if Connacht can withstand that and not let them run away with the game, then they have every chance.

It's about putting the bodies on the line and stopping Toulouse at source.

Defence will be key to how that game pans out: if Connacht can produce good line-speed and stop Toulouse players gathering momentum early on, it will give them a very good chance to take something out of the game.

Power

If Connacht are ahead or within range at half-time, they will have a great opportunity to win over there because Toulouse will just run out of gas. That's the way French sides are working at the moment: they purely rely on power and if you can deal with that, it's how you beat them.

The set-piece is going to be incredibly difficult again, but Denis Buckley - if fit - Tom McCartney and Finlay Bealham have been scrummaging brilliantly. And if Connacht win their own ball at lineout time it will be another massive step towards victory.

But it's not as uphill a task as everyone sees it, Connacht have already beaten Toulouse this season and they can do it again to create history.

Irish Independent

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