Tuesday 26 September 2017

Whoever we get, we have to work on our defence

Tiernan O’Halloran, about to tackle Munster’s Andrew Conway last Saturday, and his Connacht team-mates aim to avoid the disappointment they felt against Munster Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Tiernan O’Halloran, about to tackle Munster’s Andrew Conway last Saturday, and his Connacht team-mates aim to avoid the disappointment they felt against Munster Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Tim Allnutt

While last weekend was the final round of Guinness Pro12 and a lot of clubs are finished now for 2016-17, we are still in action and with a lot to play for.

Tonight we find out who we face in our play-off game next weekend in England.

We have no game this weekend but we'll certainly be keeping a close watch on the Challenge Cup final in Edinburgh tonight between Gloucester and Stade Francais.

Should Gloucester win, we'll be paying another visit to Kingsholm Stadium; if not, we'll be facing Northampton Saints - as the seventh ranked team in the Premiership - in Franklin's Gardens next weekend.

Having been to both grounds before, we know what kind of atmosphere we can expect and both are exciting prospects.

I don't think we'll mind too much who we get. What matters most is that we prepare accordingly and have a game-plan in place to go over to England and get the win so we can have one more outing at the Sportsground.

We all want that more than anything - for us and especially for our supporters.

Of course we were extremely disappointed with the defeat to Munster in Thomond Park. No-one wants to lose a game like that, particularly against our provincial rivals and by a scoreline so big.

We are not a team that ships 50 points and for whatever reason we let ourselves down at the weekend.

Effort

The effort is there during the week and the lads were determined to right the wrongs of the Scarlets defeat but unfortunately we let Munster in early and the heads started to drop a bit when they went so far ahead.

There were a lot of changes in the last two games to give guys a chance to push for selection in the play-offs.

While the results didn't make any difference to where we finished on the table or to the play-offs, we certainly weren't happy with the performance, particularly in defence and that's a huge work-on ahead of next weekend.

The senior players spoke after the game and in the review, and while they were far from upbeat coming back from Limerick, there was no time for feeling sorry for ourselves and the focus immediately switched to what needs to be done ahead of the play-offs.

There are two massive weeks ahead for everyone at Connacht.

There is a lot of excitement as well; it's almost like we're starting a new mini-competition. To be coming up against opposition that we don't face in the regular season is refreshing as well. It's knock-out rugby and anything can happen.

The last time we faced Northampton, we were a very different team. It was in the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup in 2009 and the Saints went on to win the competition.

More recently, we've had some interesting encounters with Gloucester, who we had in our pool for our first Heineken Cup campaign. We met them again three years later when we made the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup and then there was the dramatic play-off game in May 2015 that went to 100 minutes after they scored an 80th-minute try.

So there is a bit of history there and we feel we owe them one.

While the players and backroom team will get a well-deserved break after the play-offs, there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes to make sure we are ready to go in pre-season and we hit the ground running for 2017-18.

We are working closely with the incoming coaches through Skype calls as well as Nigel Carolan and Jimmy Duffy here to plan the pre-season programme that will kick off with the players returning at the end of June.

Our coaching ticket was confirmed during the week with the announcement of Peter Wilkins joining as defence coach.

I haven't worked with Peter before but he is highly regarded in the game and has done a lot of good work in Australia and with Edinburgh.

He'll be moving here with his young family and we're really looking forward to welcoming in for the start of preseason. It's fantastic to have new guys coming in with fresh ideas and voices while we're also lucky to have that continuity and local knowledge through Jimmy and Nigel's experience.

There are certainly a busy but exciting few weeks ahead.

Irish Independent

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