Sunday 20 August 2017

Now's the time for Lam's boys to find form

Perfect chance to pick up a few wins with Six Nations a big distraction

Ronan Loughney in action during training. Photo: Sportsfile
Ronan Loughney in action during training. Photo: Sportsfile
Pat Lam now has his focus on a top-six finish in the Pro 12. Photo: Sportsfile

Johnny O'Connor

It's exciting times for Connacht Rugby. Even though they failed to qualify for the Champions Cup quarter-finals in such disappointing circumstances, there are plenty of opportunities to pick up points over the coming weeks, and lots of players returning from injury.

There are four or five games now where Connacht can aim for at least 20 or 25 points and that puts them back in the mix for a top-six finish and qualification for next season's Champions Cup. 

It will be tough but these games are very winnable and for certain Pat Lam and his squad will regard this as their chance to get their season back on track.

A lot of the other teams are really weakened with their international contingent away on Six Nations duty, and Connacht need to take advantage of that. They did really well during this period and towards the start of last season, and even though they fell short against Toulouse, with the players returning they will be much better for that.

Cardiff are missing a number of internationals for this game. It's always weird when you go there, they are a bogey team but there is a chance you can get a bonus-point win at the same time, because they are usually open and free-flowing games.

If Connacht get a win in Cardiff Arms Park, they can get on a roll and there is a potential windfall of points available to them in the coming weeks, and if they take that they will be in around the top six again.

If they look after this block of games, and try and get as much as they can out of these when the opposition are weak, there is a chance to put themselves on a better footing. But if they don't capitalise now they will find it very difficult to make the difference up when the internationals return elsewhere.

Connacht must get over this run of games, hope they come out of it with a lot of points and then figure out what the goals are next; they can reassess their options when they know where they stand next month.

Disappointing

Elsewhere, Ireland made a disappointing start to their Six Nations campaign with a loss away to Scotland last weekend. But you would hope they can make things right in Rome against Italy.

Ireland were just a bit off the mark in Murrayfield. They were very direct in attack and Scotland met them head on and didn't let them play. Scotland built up a lead which left Ireland with a lot to do.

But at the same time you have to give Ireland credit for the way they came back. They just left themselves with too much to do. Ireland would have been lucky to win, while Scotland were good value for their victory. 

Scotland carried and defended well - they smothered Ireland's lineout, and that's where Ireland get their shape from. That wasn't firing as well as they would have liked and Scotland got their tails up as a result.

As usual, Scotland were very physical and they won the battle at the gain-line. There was never going to be a lot of line-breaks. Just on the day Ireland tried things that didn't work. They did change things up a bit in the second half but when they went ahead they didn't have the cool heads to see the game out. 

And it was crazy to see them in that position because when the game started and you looked at the scrum, Ireland were set to open Scotland up because of their dominance there. But they just couldn't build a score.

Johnny Sexton is a massive player, and having him on the field is great, but does that affect the psychology of the other players? I just don't know. You would be thinking if one of your best players isn't playing in a pivotal position then it will have an impact, but Paddy Jackson played well. 

It's going to be a difficult task away to Italy tomorrow. Italy know where they are after the first game, they will know what they need to work on and they have a very good coach. 

But it's the type of game that Ireland would be expecting to win. The key thing for those guys is not going after the bonus point early on. You need to take care of business and win the game, and if the chance comes later on, then take it.

Irish Independent

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