Saturday 24 September 2016

Masterful win has boosted hopes of glory

Quality coaches guiding players down the right lane for Pro12 success

Published 11/03/2016 | 02:30

Quinn Roux wins a line-out for Connacht against Edinburgh at Murrayfield last Friday night, a win that propelled the Westerners to the top of the table
Quinn Roux wins a line-out for Connacht against Edinburgh at Murrayfield last Friday night, a win that propelled the Westerners to the top of the table

At the moment Connacht couldn't really be on a better footing in the Pro12.

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But it's time people stopped taking pictures of the top of the table and started believing that Connacht are contenders now. And they have the players to back it up.

Not only that, but the Connacht management is top class. Pat Lam and co. have been outstanding since they arrived in 2013. They built on the hard work put in by Michael Bradley and Eric Elwood and had a vision for where the club would go.

The first couple of seasons didn't live up to their expectations but everyone could see that Connacht were gradually improving. And this season Connacht have come of age.

I was talking to Pat a couple of years ago and he said to me that the team had got to the start line of the race but just hadn't found their lane yet. Now I know what he meant, Connacht are on a roll, and they're going to stay as contenders for the foreseeable future hopefully.

Not many people would have seen that bonus-point win in Edinburgh coming but Connacht were so confident they could win that game, and get four tries.

It was epitomised by Eoin McKeon's break for the line for their final try. He seemed destined to get that ball down. He knew the way the scrum was going to turn and no one would stop him from barrelling his way over.

Connacht don't play again until that massive top of the table clash with Leinster at the Sportsground on March 26. The only thing I'm disappointed about is that the Sportsground won't be able to satisfy the demand for the game.

You could easily sell 15,000 tickets for what is arguably the biggest ever inter-pro derby between these sides. But because of the constraints less that 10,000 will get to be there.

I've seen the plans for an extension to the Clan Stand, but why not join up with Galway United and create a hub for sport in the west. Connacht will likely be in the Champions Cup next term, they need to have a stadium to support that.Elsewhere, Ireland take on Italy tomorrow in the Six Nations and if ever there's an unpredictable match-up this is it.

Even more than France, with the Italians you just don't know what you are going to get. Some days they can brilliant and most days, especially away from home, they can retreat into their shell.

Of course up front it won't be pretty, the Italians like to make their presence felt and they always have a decent set-piece. But in this championship they have shown they can mix it up.

So who knows, they could come out with all guns blazing in the Aviva tomorrow and really put it up to Ireland. I don't see that happening but it's Italy so I'm sure Joe Schmidt will have the Irish guys ready for any scenario.

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Ireland are currently in transition, and Joe is right to give a few younger guys their chance. I look forward to seeing how they cope in a big Six Nations game, and it's crucial for their experience and Ireland's depth going forward.

The competition this year hasn't gone to plan for Ireland, Joe would have wanted more than a single draw from the games against Wales, France and England. But hopefully they can bounce back now and put up a big performance.

Ireland have been playing well at times too, especially in that first game against Wales, and towards the end of the match over at Twickenham. So hopefully they can put in an 80-minute performance on Saturday and have a comfortable win.

The Italians did cause France problems in the first game of the championship but since then England and Scotland have had big wins over them so Ireland will need to do likewise.

It's important Ireland get on the scoreboard early and if they can score a couple of tries before half-time the confidence should seep out of the Italians.

A big win here would give Ireland that bit of momentum heading into the Scotland game next weekend.

After Ireland's slow start to the Six Nations, if they could finish with two victories, and comprehensive wins, it will put them in a much better footing ahead of a really tough summer tour to South Africa.

Irish Independent

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