Tuesday 30 May 2017

So much up for grabs in key game in our season

Connacht’s Bundee Aki celebrates his side’s victory over Treviso. Photo: Sportsfile
Connacht’s Bundee Aki celebrates his side’s victory over Treviso. Photo: Sportsfile

Jimmy Duffy

When Pat informed all the players and management team that he would be leaving at the end of the season, there was quite a bit of shock and surprise in the room, but when everyone had time to get their head around it, it was business as usual by Tuesday morning.

With perhaps one of the biggest games of the season coming up on Sunday, it was good to refocus our minds and get down to the rugby side of things and back into our usual routine.

All the staff and players are fully aware of the significance of the fixture.

As coaches we always have to look around the corner to the next game and ensure we have a plan in place for the beginning of the following week.

Opportunities

Once we had reviewed the Treviso game, we could focus on the challenge of Wasps and the game-plan we believe can create opportunities for us on the weekend.

We're playing one of the best club sides in the Northern Hemisphere who lie one point off first position in the Aviva Premiership, and that's really exciting.

Wasps have a very strong squad, littered with internationals. As always, we have been busy preparing, identifying the threats and opportunities with the players.

It's going to be a great occasion. We are undoubtedly the underdogs against a side that haven't lost at home in 2016.

But we relish that challenge. We've worked extremely hard to get Connacht playing Champions Cup rugby and the hunger amongst the players and the team is palpable.

Everyone wants to be playing Champions Cup rugby and to get the chance to play against a side like Wasps and show what you can do.

With guys coming back from injuries, competition is thriving. The standards of the training sessions continue to improve and that gives us all confidence going into tough tests like this.

The performance and results of the last two games against Cardiff Blues and Benetton Treviso also give us confidence that we are improving in the areas we have identified, thus improving performance.

We're heading into a very busy and challenging period rugby-wise with the back-to-back Wasps games, two inter-pro clashes with Ulster and Munster followed by a trip to Ospreys and then back into Champions Cup.

So we have to ensure we are fully focused and continuing to improve week on week.

Our initial goals of finishing in the top six of the Pro12 and qualifying for the quarter-finals of Europe are still very much alive and I believe we're in a very good place. It's an exciting time.

There appears to be a good number of Connacht supporters travelling over for this game so I hope it's a great day out in Coventry for them.

We've been there before for friendlies but this will be the first time we meet each other in a competitive fixture, and with both sides playing a good brand of rugby, it's all set up to be a thrilling clash.

The early kick-off time of 1.0 stands out a bit, but we just have to work back and make sure we tick off all the boxes in terms of our preparation.

We arrive over tomorrow afternoon via Dublin and we'll have time to settle in to the hotel before a captain's practice that afternoon.

It will be an early start on Sunday in terms of breakfast and individual prep for the guys but that's just something that professional athletes take in their stride and plan for in advance.

I really enjoy these back-to-back fixtures in Europe. We are in Wasps' home ground this weekend and whatever the result they'll be facing us in a sold out Sportsground six days later.

It certainly changes the way you have to prepare for a side in the return fixture and it's an interesting dynamic for the spectators as well.

Personally, I'm really looking forward to it.

Irish Independent

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