Tuesday 28 February 2017

Sky's the limit if we can see off Welshmen

Priceless ability to run in tries can't mask sloppy display in Parma

Johnny O'Connor

Matt Healy runs in one of his three tries against Zebre (SPORTSFILE)
Matt Healy runs in one of his three tries against Zebre (SPORTSFILE)
Jake Heenan on the charge (SPORTSFILE)

The game against Ospreys is a real eight-pointer, and a win tomorrow could be the springboard for a famous end to the season.

The possibilities are endless if Connacht can beat the Welsh. But it certainly won't be easy, and the team won't be thinking about the potential for a fifth bonus point win in a row.

The Ospreys, even minus the number of Welsh internationals, are still a difficult team to deal with; they have come to Sportsground and left Connacht reeling many times in the past. They'll be a much tougher ask than the game against Zebre last weekend.

It was very exciting at times in Italy, but it was frustrating how Connacht constantly let their hosts back into the game. But Connacht seem to be able to score tries at will, which is a rare knack.

Connacht ran the ball all day until about the 75th minute and then decided they needed to close out the game. They have scored a remarkable number of tries this year, but have conceded a fair few too. That might be part of the package: the more you touch down the more you leave yourself open.

After Connacht score, they often don't get the restart right and that lets the other team back in. They have also been guilty of over-playing the ball in the wrong positions on the pitch.

There is a need to play the territory game at times, and luckily last weekend Zebre weren't good enough to take full advantage of their mistakes.

Saying all that, when Eoghan Masterson went off injured and Kelly Haimona dotted down you were a bit worried that Zebre could have got back into it.

You just didn't know what effect the injury that would have on the psyche of the players. They didn't know how serious the injury was and that can knock a team off balance. But luckily they just about kept their composure, and the tries were a treat in the end.

Matt Healy got the hat-trick and played well but there was no real standout performer. It was a bit of sloppy performance despite the massive win and of course Pat Lam would have had plenty of work-ons to dig into following that game.

Fixable

You always have work-ons coming out of games, but sometimes it can be more difficult to figure out why you might have lost.

Luckily for Connacht, it was a win, but also they know the errors that they made on the day and they are easily fixable. All of those things will make Connacht a better side going forward but they need to erase them in time for the Ospreys.

You would expect a massive crowd in the Sportsground for such a massive game.

If ever there was a right time to jump on a bandwagon this is it. Connacht are the league leaders and they deserve to have a big vocal support behind them this weekend. If they can get a really good atmosphere for the game it will help them massively.

Against Scarlets that made a huge difference, and that game ended up with a bonus point win. What more do you want, a Saturday night game in a packed Sportsground, a wonderful atmosphere and then a short stroll down to the pub for a good night out afterwards.

Of course beforehand Ireland take on England at Twickenham and that will be a huge test for the Irish coming off the back of a disappointing defeat in Paris.

Eddie Jones will have his players well-tuned, but once again an Ireland versus England game is going to come down to brains versus brawn.

Ireland need to have at least to have at least parity in the contact area, and if you get that against England it's half the battle. The Irish rugby brain will do the rest, but if you go to Twickenham and get bullied around the pitch you are going to lose.

If Ireland don't get on top in the physical stakes they don't have a chance of winning.

Without Paul O'Connell it's going to make those sort of journeys all the more difficult for a young Irish side and they need a few leaders to stand up and drag them over the line.

It won't be pretty and it won't be one of Connacht's try-fests but hopefully Ireland will have enough in the end.

Physical game throwing up brutal injuries

Rugby is a gladiator sport and these guys deserve every penny they get. Rugby players are putting their bodies on the line week in week out, and their commitment should never come into question, writes Johnny O’Connor.

It was horrible to see Eoghan Masterson go down like that against Zebre, and it was another injury in a long line of horrifying hits that we have seen in the sport in recent years.

I’m not being the bearer of bad news, this is just the reality. This isn’t American football, where the demands aren’t there anaerobically, rugby players are highly fatigued when they go into contact and that increases risk.

The players are getting bigger, faster and stronger, and the collisions are more intense. So it’s natural that something has to give, and unfortunately we saw what happened last weekend.

These guys must be commended for what they do, they are absolute warriors and still sometimes they have to put up with stick from the outside. Imagine after all of the work-rate and effort, and the mindset it takes to put yourself out on the pitch each weekend, sometimes what you to have to contend with that after the game, is not right.

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