Sunday 24 September 2017

Signs are good for a big finish to the season

Naulia Dawai is all smiles during training at the Sportsground.
Naulia Dawai is all smiles during training at the Sportsground.

Johnny O'Connor

With their full string intact, Glasgow Warriors probably would have had the upper hand on Connacht this weekend, but there's a real opportunity coming off the back of the Six Nations.

It's definitely a weakened Glasgow side that Connacht will face on the 4G surface at Scotstoun Stadium tomorrow, and a full-strength Connacht will hopefully take advantage of that.

Bundee Aki wraps up against the cold
Bundee Aki wraps up against the cold

The surface is another plus. Obviously, Glasgow are well used to playing on the 4G pitch, but Connacht thrive on a fast-paced game and a firm pitch is exactly what they want - it's the reason they did so well coming into the business end of the season last year.

Glasgow love to move the ball around at pace, but they won't be able to pull the same punches minus a few of their Scottish contingent, and Connacht should look to tire them out.

But I do expect a really close contest no matter what way it goes, and it will be nothing like the disappointing 41-5 hammering that Connacht suffered in Round 1 of the Pro12 this season against the same opponents.

Let's not forget that was a Connacht side coming in cold, off a poor pre-season and Glasgow were looking for revenge. The roles have been reversed now and it's going to be a fast-paced thriller between two evenly-matched sides - much more like what we saw at the end of 2015-'16.

But saying all that, Connacht do need everything to go right for them on the day if they expect to leave Glasgow with four points, or maybe even five. This is still a Glasgow side who are into the quarter-finals in the Champions Cup and, of course, they have massive pedigree in the league too.

It's going to be some battle out there, but another thing that could turn it in Connacht's favour, is having a fully-fit Bundee Aki to call on. He has another couple of weeks' training under his belt now, and that is so crucial to Connacht.

All in all, these last six games will come down to execution, and the only way Connacht can pull off a miracle and finish ahead of Ulster is if they execute everything perfectly along the way.

Concessions In fairness, they are getting there. There have been some brilliant performances in recent weeks and the only thing stopping Connacht from putting up some big scorelines on teams is the individual errors, and the uncharacteristic penalty concessions.

The potential is there for Connacht to finish 2016-'17 as they did last season. There won't be any silverware at the end of this campaign, but there's no reason why the Connacht players cannot help themselves to six wins from six games along the way.

At the start of this season Connacht found it tough to break down teams, and it looked like they had been figured out. But now they don't go wide every time, and they don't rely on the pod in midfield.

Connacht are varying their attack more often and it has led to better results. Hopefully this weekend, they can show some more ingenuity from things they have learned during the break, and crack open a resolute Glasgow rearguard.

Even the best teams can be made to look ordinary, and Ireland's victory over England was the perfect example. It was just one game, and take nothing away from England, they are still a great team. But Ireland completely nullified their threats all over the field.

Johnny Sexton's choke tackle on James Haskell was the classic example of why a team like Ireland can beat a team like England. Brains always trump brawn, and Joe Schmidt's side showed why in the Six Nations finale.

It was a brilliant way to round off the tournament and looking at the Ireland team that finished off that game it really points towards a positive future. There have been so many new faces integrated into the squad since the World Cup.

The Leinster schools system continues to pump out the talent and their academy has provided some fantastic prospects for the future of Irish rugby. But the other provinces are contributing too.

Kieran Marmion was great on Saturday, and there are a lot of other Connacht players waiting in the wings to make a big impact during the summer tour this year.

Irish Independent

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