Sunday 22 October 2017

No room for errors in Ulster

Defence still an issue but progress is being made

Tiernan O'Halloran
Tiernan O'Halloran

Noel Mannion

Based on the last few weeks, while the result wasn't the one Connacht were looking for, it certainly was a way better performance against Scarlets in Round 5 of the Guinness PRO14 last weekend. 

A few of the same things keep cropping up this season, with Connacht allowing tries to be scored against them at vital times in the game. It's usually in the first five minutes of each half and in the last five minutes too. Those moments have cost Connacht dearly.

The game at Parc y Scarlets was no exception. Connacht were in a lovely position going into half-time, travelling along nicely, but then they conceded a score and went in behind when they should have been in front.

Despite their brilliant attack they coughed up some simple scores in that game, and the rush defence didn't work. The one time it came off, Jack Carty got his score out of it. 

But when you have a shooter flying up like that it's too risky. If the opposition gets the pass away, they have a man free, and there is a dog leg in the defence. When you have a good runner like Steff Evans on the outside he will beat you every time.

There were some good parts to the Connacht play but I'm sure for an old head like Kieran Keane he is probably wondering where it is going wrong.

No matter what sport you play, the most dangerous time is after scoring, the two or three minutes where you are a bit elated, your concentration levels might not be there and you don't nail your defensive roles.

The classic example I always use is the New Zealanders; nine times out of ten times they get their exit right after they score. They catch it, go through one phase to get a better angle and then kick it. They concentrate and get rid of the danger.

Connacht don't appear to have a set exit strategy when they score a try and they are under pressure in the 22. When Rhys Patchell scored, Bundee Aki ran a ball out from under his posts, it was going back to be cleared, banged off Ultan Dillane, knock-on penalty but Scarlets played on and Patchell scored.

There was nothing wrong with what Bundee did but the longer you stay in your 22, the more likely you are to make mistakes, and the more of a chance they will be punished. 

EVOLVE Teams are aware of what Connacht do, and they push up hard on them. Keane is trying to evolve an exit strategy but because of the plan they have played under in the last few years it can be difficult to change.

The important kicks are catching Connacht out all the time too. I do feel sorry for Jack Carty because I don't think he is given a fair crack of the whip. Marnitz Boshoff came in and it didn't work out and now Andrew Deegan has come in from Australia.

Carty constantly feels under pressure and sometimes that's unfair. That's a pivotal position and he needs to be worked into it. He might be there a long time but has had a staggered career. 

I do have sympathy for him but that was a relatively easy kick he missed. It was crucial and would have drawn them level, and from a confidence point of view it would have made a huge difference.

Against teams like Dragons and Cardiff, it appears as if Connacht think subconsciously they should leave with a win. But with Scarlets, and next up Ulster, and then Munster down the road, the mind focuses very quickly and you have to put in a performance. The difference in the last two games was huge and Connacht need to produce a similar performance this weekend. 

Ulster are coming off of a defeat they didn't expect and somebody's going to pay for it. Connacht will have to play like they did against Scarlets and better to come out with a win. But it was a massive improvement. Their set-piece is going really well and they will need to be at the top of their game again at the weekend.

Charles Piutau has been outstanding this season again and no matter what backline Les Kiss picks they always have good strike runners. It's going to be very hard to stop them, but Connacht can do it.

Irish Independent

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