Thursday 20 October 2016

Restart issue may cost lads a home semi

Lam's side must iron out the third set-piece to be a real handful

Johnny O'Connor

Published 15/04/2016 | 02:30

Jack Carthy in training at the Sportsground. Photo: Sportsfile
Jack Carthy in training at the Sportsground. Photo: Sportsfile
Connacht’s Sean O’Brien at training. Photo: Sportsfile

Connacht's Challenge Cup quarter-final defeat to Grenoble was incredible. The style of rugby was fantastic and it was more like Super Rugby at times - both teams were just throwing it around and taking chances.

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They both contributed to the spectacle but there's no doubt at this stage that Connacht have become everyone's favourite second team. That game showed why.

Twitter went insane after the match. People admire when teams can do that, go away from home and play with such style and commitment, and it makes it all the more heartbreaking in the end when the team loses.

Connacht stuck to their guns all the way through; obviously that is what probably cost them the game in the end. But they scored four wonderful tries and that came from the structures they have shown all season.

They have such an exciting style of play and philosophy. I've said many times already in 2015-'16, but the guys are never afraid to just have a go. They have such confidence in their skill-set and they play heads-up rugby all of the time.

Key areas in the game came back to bite Connacht, and the restarts are a big reason why they won't be contesting a home semi-final in the Challenge Cup for this season. They have struggled in that area this term and they need to get more accuracy in this part of their game.

It was mentioned on the commentary during the match that there are three set-pieces in the game of rugby. Connacht have a great scrum and lineout, it's up there with the best in the Pro12, and in the Challenge Cup. But on that night the restarts proved to be area that cost them.

Connacht had a few very notable performances on the night again, and when you see the lack of explosiveness in the Irish set-up at the moment, it seems to be crying out for the inclusion of Matt Healy, and thankfully he was called up this week.

He came into his own at full-back, he had so much more time and space and used it so wisely. His step and angles of running were quite frightening. And when he got one-on-one, his blistering pace made him untouchable.


Ireland do have the likes of Simon Zebo in there at the moment, but for me Healy is just a level above. Every time he gets the ball the supporters get excited, and it usually ends with something positive. He was solid under the high ball too and it was a very promising performance from him.

In the long-term, though, I do feel Tiernan O'Halloran needs to retain the 15 jersey at Connacht. It's important you get all your best players on the field at once, and to have a back three of Healy, Niyi Adeolokun and O'Halloran, it points towards a lot of tries in the run-in.

Watching from the sidelines it's easy to say what they could and should have done to close out the game. In the end the most important thing is the players on the pitch learn from the rich experience it was, and build on it. A mistake is only a mistake if you don't learn from it.

No better way to get back into it with Munster at the Sportsground this weekend. It doesn't come much tougher than Munster at home, and Connacht will need to ensure they don't allow Munster impose themselves.

There's no doubting that Connacht want quick ball, and Munster are well used to slowing down the opposition and frustrating them. This will be a fired-up Munster side and they will take every opportunity if Connacht are not careful.

Connacht have already beaten Munster this season, and with Anthony Foley's men on the brink of missing out on Champions Cup rugby next term they will have extra motivation coming into this game.

But Connacht must turn the screw now; they have put themselves in a position to get into the Pro12 play-offs, and a home semi-final.

Matches like these can define a season, and for confidence it would be massive to win.

I have no doubt they have the better game-plan, but whether last weekend's defeat at Grenoble will have a lasting negative effect, only time will tell.

Irish Independent

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